When you mention Barbados anywhere in the world it is instantly known for being an idyllic Caribbean island. Barbados has an international brand and is renowned for its beautiful beaches, crystal clear water, abundant sunshine and very friendly people. But …. as a manufacturing location? Probably not.
Why would an international investor look seriously at Barbados as a location to establish and run a manufacturing facility? Let me try and answer that question because that is exactly what I did some four years ago and I don’t regret it. Is it for you? Well, let me tell you my story and you decide….
Having just sold a very successful business in Canada, I took some time out to reflect and consider my next business move. I wanted to do something that positively impacted the environment and ideally would be technology based. LED lighting seemed to fit the criteria, as it is environmentally safe, reduces our carbon footprint and saves energy and money. Most LED lighting products are made in Asia and are of varying quality and price. I wanted to manufacture somewhere in the Caribbean where electricity costs are amongst the highest in the world and, because of this, I reasoned that LED lighting would be readily adopted.
Deciding on the right location was the difficult part. All Caribbean islands, on the face of it, seemed to be the same. Or so I thought. Our first choice, based on holiday experience only, was Grand Cayman, a beautiful island with a modern and reliable infrastructure but located right on the ‘hurricane belt’. Nevertheless, we still thought it was a good choice and a great place to live. However, it is only an associate member of CARICOM and therefore exporting from there would prove complex.
Next I looked at Jamaica, then Trinidad. Both are great islands with vastly different issues associated with them.
Finally, I visited Barbados and immediately felt at home. It is politically stable and has a good infrastructure. Invest Barbados provided excellent support and encouragement to me with their team of committed professionals. Was it all plain sailing? Of course not. And here are the real issues for an international investor coming to Barbados or for that matter almost any Caribbean island:
- Do not expect the same level of sophistication and efficiency when dealing with government departments. They do not compare with more advanced economies.
- Patience is a virtue and you will need lots of it. Simple processes take more time than you could imagine. The people are great but there is no common IT platform on which to process business facilitation.
- Hiring staff is more complex than you would think. They are well educated but in most cases do not have the experience that you may be looking for. Therefore, you have to hire talent with good work ethics and attitude and be prepared to invest in significant training.
- You have to create your own sense of urgency and be persistent. It will come together for you but it will not be without some stress.
If you can do all this then I suggest that you will not find a better lifestyle for you and your family. My company is now exporting to 14 countries and current growth year on year is over 70%. So, we have made it so far and we are enjoying the experience.
I wish someone had told me beforehand what I would have to face in setting up the business in Barbados, but would I do it again? Yes I would!