By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The owners of the former Bacardi plant are in talks with another investor group about establishing a “technical school for high-end IT services” at the southern New Providence site, a move that was yesterday billed as potentially creating “thousands of Bahamian jobs”.
Tennyson Wells, the former Cabinet Minister and principal of the Source River investor group, which owns the site, said the goal was to create a Bahamian ‘Silicon Valley’ by providing a trained local workforce to attract high-end information technology (IT) businesses to this nation.
Suggesting that the school could be operational by September 2013 “if everything goes to plan”, Mr Wells said the Bahamas had no choice but to target such initiatives if it was to “remain” a competitive international business centre.
Hinting that the proposed technical school would be similar to the Montego Bay-based Caribbean Institute of Technology, which had graduated 16,000 students since being established in the late 1990s, Mr Wells said three out of every four graduates - some 12,000 - were now working in Jamaican call centres.
He suggested that with a properly trained Bahamian workforce, industries such as financial services and tourism would be encouraged to return their call centre services to this nation, as well as attracting new ones.
“Another private group is looking here to put in a technical school for high-end IT services,” Mr Wells told Tribune Business.
“I went to Jamaica last week to look at the Caribbean Institute of Technology in Montego Bay, which is training people to develop high-end technical services, like Silicon Valley and call centres.”
Noting that the Ministry of Tourism’s call centre was based offshore, with an estimated 70 foreign nationals answering queries about Bahamian tourism, Mr Wells said: “I believe thousands of jobs could be created in the Bahamas if we set up call centres in tourism.
“I’m advised these jobs could be created in the Bahamas if we set up call services. If you call BTC and have a problem, you’re calling someone in Jamaica. We want to create technology and facilities here to deal with that kind of business.
“If we are going to remain a commercial centre and banking centre we need these kinds of services. This is one of the primary things I’m working on.”
Mr Wells added that the proposed technical school wanted to emulate the Caribbean Institute of Technology, and end the practice of banks offshoring their call centres to Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.
Moves may already be afoot to do that. Obie Wilchcombe, minister of tourism, recently said his ministry was looking to relocate its call centre to Grand Bahama.
However, a major stumbling block for the Bahamas is that call centres tend to be located in low cost (cheap salaries, energy etc) countries that have highly-trained, highly-skilled workforces fluent in various languages.
That description does not easily apply to the Bahamian economy and its workforce. In addition, world-class communications infrastructure is also needed, and this nation is only slowly moving towards that following the BTC privatisation, and subsequent market liberalisation and introduction of competition.
Undaunted, Mr Wells yesterday told Tribune Business that the school would also train Bahamians in software programming and other high-end technology skills. It would, he added, be supported by Microsoft technology.
“If it’s supported by the Government and the private sector, not through funding but sending a stream of students here, we plan to take 100 in during the first year,” he said.
“If everything goes to plan, we should be up and running certainly for September. We’re planning on starting with anywhere from 50-100 students, and will have to bring in high-tech people from India, Malaysia to provide these kinds of services.”