By IAN FERGUSON
THE Bahamas has for many years been engaged in the conversation of economic and industry diversification. While we all view tourism as our mainstay, and appreciate its great sustained value to us as a nation, we have long feared serious declines in tourist arrivals and the dire consequences of this occurrence. Some understanding of the natural cycle of business, and our observation of regional and global trends in tourism, should certainly hasten us into encouraging entrepreneurs and investors alike to consider primary and secondary industries.
Certainly, we will all agree that as a nation we have neglected to explore sufficiently our vast natural resources, both on land and sea, and moreover to our detriment the further processing of these natural resources into semi and finished goods. The Chamber Voice opens these conversations to awaken a renewed sense of energy towards those best business practises and decisions that would prove helpful to us as a nation.
We will continue to overcrowd the tourism and banking sectors, causing unnecessary competition and declining service levels; we will continue to import 90-plus per cent of the goods and services we use to support the tertiary sector and our lifestyles; and we will continue to allow our competitors to advance in technologies and knowledge required in the perfecting of these primary and secondary industries if we continue to neglect this dialogue.
The conversation should never be about replacing tourism. Even if that were ever possible, it certainly would not be advantageous to any of us. Tourism as for the past 60-plus years not only sustained us, but we can easily attribute our economic stability and high standard of living to the hospitality sector.
What should be happening as a result of the obvious tertiary industry success is reinvestment in the economy towards the primary and secondary industries that will support and advance the tertiary sectors. Will we ever mature to seriously finance and support small manufacturing on a large scale in furniture, small appliances, ceramic works, cleaning products, well-branded clothing and textiles? Or will we ever join the 21st century world in the large scale and modern agricultural production of food supplies? With 5,400 square miles of land (75 per cent of which sits idle), and with nearly 100,000 square miles of water with amazing marine treasures, certainly we can do more to capitalise on the these opportunities.
The paradigm shift has occurred all around us. The Government and the private sector in other countries have made aggressive moves towards more strategic diversification. It is true that that the capital required to establish primary and secondary industries often exceeds that required to provide services. There is no skirting around the fact that much of this massive restructuring towards greater primary and secondary producing must be government driven; driven in policy and funding assistance for the private sector.
We believe that we are at that crossroad. Far too many Bahamians professionals, skilled and unskilled labourers, are depending on the new markets we open in primary and secondary industries in the next 10 years.
Certainly, we are not waiting on the foreign investor to ask for more land to explore new methods of farming and fishing. Our position must be a combined effort by the public and private sector to equip, through educational grants, scholarships, training, land grants, capital grants, import concessions and other forms of assistance, Bahamians who are willing and able to advance these sectors.
Time out for talk and rhetoric. We have heard all of the political promises before. We have seen the grandiose plans of many in the private sector. For the sake of our Bahamaland and all our forefathers have toiled to achieve, we must move this conversation two bars into referendum and strategic business planning.
NB: Ian Ross Ferguson has earned degrees from the College of the Bahamas, St. Johns University and a Master of Science Degree in Education from the University of Miami. He has served education, training, tourism and hospitality in senior executive roles for the past 18 years, and currently serves as a local and regional human resource and talent management consultant in both the public and private sectors.