The State of Business in Grenada

We are not here to say everything is terrible. We are moving in the right direction but if we are to really move the needle, there are some things we need to be honest about. We will look at some of the larger issues and speculate on potential solutions.

We understand this is hard stuff to do but with an open conversation we can get there faster. We got feedback to use humour but it would do the seriousness of the situation a disservice.

Grenada is a beautiful place and the people are lovely. It’s in many ways the ideal place for an entrepreneur. It’s small enough where you can quickly test ideas and yet difficult enough where it can crush your soul before you get started. It has a rough history but there are ample examples of the entrepreneurial spirit. This is why it hurts to see our potential snuffed out before it is given a chance, much less the support it needs to grow.

We start pruning way too early and there is a deep aversion to new ideas. This starts at home and works its way out then later manifests itself as learned helplessness. Confidence takes a huge hit and it is vital in helping us get out of our comfort zones. People need to continuously explore new ideas and ways of doing things. Even if you don’t agree it’s still worth giving it a listen, at least.

We take a very short-term view of the future. In many ways, it’s easy to see why this is the case given the financial climate on the island. Unfortunately, this keeps everyone stuck in a cycle of maximising short-term gains at the detriment of building long-term relationships and draining a limit well.

One example of this would be the high cost of taxis. Because the number of people taking taxis are relatively low, they tend to charge high in order to make up for it. Overtime, if we were to reduce the average cost of a taxi ride, the potential amount of people willing to take them would increase.

On a national level, one thing we can do right now is take a cut in near-term import taxes in order to increase future tax revenues from new businesses. Or even taking some of the same import revenue and investing in export infrastructure.

It is expensive getting a new business started. With 39.2% youth unemployment and limited job opportunities, it’s essential starting of new ventures to be simple and low-cost. Small enterprises are the drivers of every economy and if they are not flourishing we have situations like ours. It would also be nice to move up from the 142nd place on the international “ease of doing business” ranking.

This leads to another key issue. Locally, we have no true investment vehicle tailored for growth. We spoke to GARFIN (Grenada Authority for the Regulation of Financial Institutions) about starting an investment fund and there is no information on what is necessary to start one.

CARCIP is great but it is slow when it comes to moving at the pace ICT needs and lacks the much-needed mentorship component. Having an investment fund created with capital from local investors is a start but first, we must switch from a savings mindset to an investment one.

On another note, getting an apprenticeship program in place would help greatly with filling the knowledge gap, especially with youth who need to be equipped with skills.

The next one gives me a visceral reaction anytime I speak about it. Banking is complete hell. Now I understand the difficulties of running a bank in the region but there is so much more we can achieve with the use of available technology to help fix this.

With mobile penetration so high on the island and banks holding $47 billion USD in savings across the regions, I’m sure we can figure out a better way to deploy this capital than mostly on housing and vehicle loans. This would have to be championed by local banks because larger, foreign-owned ones would not see the value given we are already seen as a risk when it comes to AML (anti-money laundering) compliance.

Right now there is a disconnect between the job market and what we are training people to do. If we are to succeed in tourism, agriculture, and the service sectors, we need to make sure we train and invest heavily in these areas. There is nothing wrong focusing on the high-end of the market but we need to have the quality across the board to back it up. If we do not then we will continue our dependence on foreign labour to fill the gap.

The above situation gives rise to an interesting dynamic where there is a heavy dependence on personal networks to succeed. This isn’t inherently a terrible thing because just about everyone does it. The dark side is you have people in positions they are not qualified for and this can be detrimental to everyone in the long-run, even devolve into corruption.

This can be said for both private business and government. Again, this is not a bad thing but we must take a hard look at this issue in how it can impede our collective progress when you have people with great ideas but they do not have the family connections to get the right audience.

We will end on a positive note by mentioning we are moving in the right direction. Modernising government communication with citizens and information technology can go a long way in fixing this problem but there will also need to be some difficult cultural shifts.

With initiatives like the ECCB’s (Eastern Caribbean Central Bank) digital EC dollar pilot, further investments in education, changes to our mindset (this is hard but not impossible), and a willingness to truly work together, we can make a huge leap in getting Grenada to realise its potential. It has to start with us!

Kenroy George
(GrenStart and OASIS)

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