Jamaica’s new government is serious about assisting business, creating jobs and generally growing the economy, junior minister, Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, said while on a brief business visit here last week.
With the country recording its first real growth in five years and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projecting a one per cent growth in the economy in the next fiscal year, Ffolkes-Abrahams said the People’s National Party (PNP) government is keen to build on the momentum.
The Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Investment & Commerce met with several potential investors during a packed schedule.
“These are new investors who are very excited about investing in Jamaica,” the attorney-at-law said. “Some of them are quite big and they operate in the information technology and manufacturing sectors. Jamaica is open for business and I am quite confident that we can entice them to do business in our country. Jamaica needs to grow its economy and we need jobs. We are looking for investments that address these needs.”
She said that a company with Canadian connections – Vistaprint has a plant in Windsor – is building a 92,000-square foot facility in Barnett Technology Park in Montego Bay that should be ready by the end of the year and will create 5,000 jobs.
Vistaprint Jamaica Ltd. is a customer service centre for the parent company which is an online supplier of printed and promotional material as well as marketing services to micro businesses and consumers.
“Clients will be able to call from anywhere in the world and they will connect to the Jamaica office where someone will help them with the graphic design of their business cards, T-shirts, brochures and other products,” said Ffolkes-Abrahams. “The designs are then e-mailed to the Windsor facility for production and mailing to clients around the world.”
Ffolkes-Abrahams, 55, spent close to three decades in Canada and is a former president and vice-president of the Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation. As a Commonwealth citizen, she did not have to renounce her Canadian citizenship to enter representative politics in Jamaica.
“I believe my time in Canada provided me with an advantage when it comes to selling Jamaica as a destination to engage in business opportunities,” she said. “I have been to most of the provinces and I am familiar with the culture of business here and the Diaspora itself which we want to stimulate to invest in Jamaica. A lot of what I have learned in Canada I have taken back to Jamaica and I want to encourage nationals here to invest in the country of their birth because there is an opportunity for them to own part of the country and also to proposer and in so doing help Jamaica proposer. It’s a win-win situation for both sides.”
Just two years after returning to Jamaica to become involved in the political process, Ffolkes-Abrahams upset then Jamaica Labour Party energy minister, Clive Mullings, in the West Central St. James constituency in Montego Bay. She was among six PNP women candidates in Jamaica’s 16th general elections since independence five decades ago.
She said she has received several calls from nationals in the Diaspora who are considering returning home.
“Some of the questions they ask is how I was able to make the seamless transition and pull off such a major victory,” Ffolkes-Abrahams, an ordained Pentecostal minister, said. “I tell them it was not easy, but God guided me along the journey, I campaigned vigorously and I had enormous family support, which is crucial.
“For my first campaign rally, I had my parents, my husband and three children and other family members standing with me. That, I think, really made an impression with the electorate. My winning an election was not due to a one-man show. It showed how powerful family can be.”
Ffolkes-Abrahams’ family is well-rooted in Montego Bay. Her father, Eugene Ffolkes, designed the PNP’s “rising sun” emblem at age 16 and is an Order of Distinction recipient and chairman of Cornwall Regional Hospital while her mother, Greta, has served as chair of the Mt. Alvernia High School board for several years. The family also owns the Racquet Club Housing Complex.
A graduate of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus in Barbados, Ffolkes-Abrahams was called to the Jamaica Bar in 1981 and the Ontario Bar four years later after successfully completing law studies at York University’s Osgoode Hall. She was an Ontario Human Rights Commission counsel for close to two decades.
Ffolkes-Abrahams’ husband, Peter, still practices law in Canada and their three children are based in the Greater Toronto Area.
While missing her family, she said Jamaica is now her home.
“I enjoy living there and I am committed to building the country,” added Ffolkes-Abrahams who completed a Masters in Administrative Law at York University nine years ago and is a senior law lecturer at the University of Technology in Montego Bay and a former Jamaica Gleaner columnist.
By RON FANFAIR