Entrepreneurs are finding success in small scale local production. Delano Handfield is going global with his Sakaja hot sauces produced, bottled and labeled in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Turks and Caicos Islands’ relative isolation and lack of raw materials makes it an unlikely manufacturing hub. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs to create jobs and wealth, and economic diversity through small-scale light manufacturing.
Unlike in the 19th century, when Turks and Caicos’ salt industry exported a mass-produced commodity, the 21st century opportunity for manufacturing grows out of serving the nation’s dominant tourism economy with a variety of authentic local products.
More than 1 million visitors cycle through the islands each year, providing a predictable demand for local food, beverages, souvenirs and designed goods. The government already provides tax benefits to local light manufacturing firms, and the TCI receives duty- free access to Canada via the CARIBCAN Trade Agreement, plus advantageous export status in the European Union and the United States via participation in additional trade agreements and organizations.
But given the growing awareness of the benefits of light manufacturing to the local economy, the government began working toward a comprehensive manufacturing policy aimed at encouraging start-ups and attracting investment.
“To the extent that it can be competitive, the government is open to any light manufacturing proposals, because it is important that we broaden the economic base of the islands,” said Minister of Finance and Trade Hon. Washington Misick.
To the extent that it can be competitive, the government is open to any light manufacturing proposals
Light-manufacturing refers to manufacturing processes that don’t require large sums of investment, like massive assembly lines or capital intensive machine tools. “We clearly don’t have the capability to get into something like assembling vehicles, because we simply don’t have the demand locally,” Misick said.
But you don’t have to look too far around Grace Bay to find examples of local light-manufacturing success stories. The FOTTAC (Flavours of the Turks and Caicos) store on Grace Bay Road features Bambarra brand products, including rums, sauces and cakes.
The Bambarra Rum story illustrates how simple, small-scale manufacturing in the Caribbean can still pay off with big returns. The “Spirit of the Turks and Caicos” is not distilled from locally grown sugar cane, but by purchasing selected raw, high-proof rums by the vat from other islands, local rum experts produce a line of critically acclaimed rums by aging, blending and bottling. Tax advantages give the local product an edge on the imported competition, and as Bambarra grew in popularity both as a drink and a coveted keepsake, demand for the product drove several rounds of expansion and upgrades at the company.
A more recent addition at FOTTAC represents a more traditional approach to developing new products. The Sakaja line of sauces is a culinary invention by island native and U.S. Army veteran Delano Handfield. While enjoying a conch salad at da Conch Shack about three years ago, Handfield realized that a mango salsa recipe he’d developed as a hobby would taste great on conch. After a bit of experimentation with local ingredients, he presented an improved version of his original to the manager at da Conch Shack. Demand for Handfield’s unique sauces eventually led him to expand his downtown operation.
Handfield could take his recipes to a packing facility in the United States, but he hasn’t because “my whole dream was to do something in this country that would be useful to the country... Things can be done here, too. You don’t have to run off so much.”
Today, one of the areas of emphasis is the opportunity to develop locally bottled and labeled products, like soaps, that could be used by resorts and hotels. Guests appreciate quality local products, manufacturing creates jobs, and an intelligent tax policy can keep prices competitive. But, getting everything right with a big-picture policy requires more than piecemeal solutions.
“There is a lot we need to look at,” Misick said. “We have boats coming in here loaded with cargo and going back empty. We have to try to make some smart decisions in that way, if we are going to be able to increase physical trade, because that is what we don’t have.”
Did you know?
Manufacturing is less than 2-percent of the country's GDP.
The current administration is in the process of developing a manufacturing policy to encourage more activity in this area.