Jamaica in 2018 is redefining the roles it can play on the global business and industry stage. Its leaders know they have a dependable tourism industry, some manufacturing, agribusiness and shipping and logistics. To the latter point, in time, Jamaica wants to be the "Singapore of the Caribbean" serving as a shipping and logistics hub for all of Latin America. Leaders spoke in June at the 2018 Jamaica Investment Forum of the need to cultivate its agribusiness industry more effectively so that the island nation can be less dependent on the U.S. and other markets for its food supply (see the Editor's View, July 2018). This is a nation with enormous potential and a relatively new government committed to seeing it met.
An industry that needs no recalibrating — and one whose success story the other sectors could take a page from — is Jamaica's business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, which is booming. BPO in Jamaica is much more than cubicle farms of customer service phone personnel. It's tech support, insurance claims management, legal, HR, IT and other functions; the sector contributes more than US$450 million to the Jamaican economy. That figure should rise to $750 million by 2020, according to the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica. From Montego Bay — particularly at the Free Zone there — to Ocho Rios to Portmore to Kingston, developers can't build space fast enough for the 55 BPO companies that already employ more than 26,000 workers. Most of them are expanding.
Some have already leased space in 58HWT, a $30-million Integrated Technology Park in Kingston's St. Andrew Parish, where Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke ground in September 2017. The park will have the largest BPO facility in the English-speaking Caribbean, providing 3,300 call-center seats and more than 5,000 permanent jobs.
Irvine, California-based Alorica is expanding its Jamaica presence with 112,000 sq. ft. at 58HWT.
"With the success of our two existing sites in Jamaica — Kingston and Portmore — we've added another location in Kingston, making us the third largest business process outsourcing (BPO) company on the island," reports the company in a release. "Boasting the largest footprint out of the three operations, this site plans to create 2,000 jobs between the end of 2018 and early 2019. As a result, Alorica will employ approximately 5,000 local employees on the island, servicing clients in the media and entertainment, hospitality and high-tech industries."
Regional Leader in the Making
Ibex Global CEO Bob Dechant explains Jamaica's appeal to his BPO operation, which started in Jamaica with 720 seats at one site in 2016 and has grown to 2,500 at three sites in 2018.
"Jamaica is positioned well to be the leader for Caribbean/LATAM markets," he tells Site Selection. "Its longstanding democracy and history of peaceful transitions of power have positioned it well. It's taking a leadership position within the Caribbean, helping other countries establish themselves as potential places for BPOs to do business."
Ibex is investing heavily in Jamaica because its clients increasingly prefer that back-office functions take place closer to the U.S. In comparison, notes Dechant, the Philippines, where many BPO operations are located, is seen as more risk-prone and distant — it can take a full day just to get there compared to a few hours to get to Jamaica from most eastern U.S. locations. It's nearshoring, pure and simple, with a plentiful supply of educated, English-speaking workers. And forget what you thought you knew or might have heard anecdotally about hiring in Jamaica years ago.
"Contrary to old narratives, the Jamaica workforce is highly motivated, very professional and love the BPO jobs we have created," says Dechant. "Our business is approximately 3,500 full-time equivalents in the Kingston side of the country. Agent attendance and retention are metrics we measure closely globally to ensure our agents are committed and engaged. Our Jamaica business competes very well globally."
This section was sponsored by the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO). For more information visit www.jamaicatradeandinvest.org.
Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.