How would you define the Chamber’s role?
One of the objectives of the Chamber is to advocate on behalf of the private sector. Our aim is to create a conducive environment for the private sector to conduct business within Antigua and Barbuda. To ensure that we advocate on behalf of our members, we provide a number of training and awareness programs, so that our members are equipped to deal with different situations that could arise in running their businesses.
We recognize that Antigua is a small society and there is a relationship between the government and the private sector. To establish a business, you have to utilize the services of the government.
In terms of procurement, the government is one of the biggest customers. As a result of this, a good working relationship between the public and private sector is essential.
What role should economic diversification play in the country’s development strategy?
Historically the country’s economy has not been diverse. A diversified economy is key, and for this reason we think that agriculture can play a big role in the country’s economic future, as well as services. Both must continue to grow in order to support the tourist industry, which is the country’s main engine of growth.
One of the disadvantages we have is that despite foreign investment, our human resources are not growing. We want to see more locals in management positions, we want to see more people benefit from these investments.
From a private sector perspective, we would like more dialogue with the government. We need a steady and continued dialogue, because the private sector provides many services to the public sector and vice versa. The private and public sector are often too far apart, and we have to work on strengthening that relationship.
How can the government, private sector, and academic institutions, collaborate in order to respond to the country’s needs?
We have many very talented young people. Many go to study abroad and one of the main challenges is addressing this brain drain. We must draw these young people back to Antigua and apply their knowledge and skills to national development. As a country, we must give young Antiguans the opportunity to contribute to their country’s development.
SMEs represent a large part of most economies. What are you doing to foster a strong local business community?
We must stop seeing ourselves as ‘small’ companies or businesses. We must acquire a skill-set and we must think big. One of the biggest challenges for SMEs is gaining access to capital. All the financial opportunities are out there, but it is hard for local businesses to reach them.
We must bridge that gap. But first we must change that ‘small business’ mentality. It is difficult for small companies to strategize, they have to be out there every day looking for business. The same thing applies to the Chamber. We would like to do more to support our members, but we are limited in terms of resources and capital.
Where do you see the Chamber in the next 5 years?
I would like to see the Chamber being more active on pressing issues. The current administration speaks of their vision for the country, but how do we get to this vision? There are no blueprints, there is no path to follow, and this has created an environment where we get caught up on a weekly basis in small details.
This is more of a problem in small societies such as Antigua because the issue of the day can eclipse the development and normal functioning of the country and its businesses. I would like to see in the future a more proactive and solution-driven Chamber. We want to discuss solutions to the challenges that hinder the country’s growth and private sector development.
Once again, we must change our mentality. Antigua itself is small and limited. With most countries in the region fighting to attract the same investments and tourists, it would be better to have a regional approach. All the Chambers in the region struggle with the same challenges that we have, so we must work collectively. It is the only way to achieve sustainability and growth for all.