Jonathan Adams, president of the Small Enterprising Business Association (SEBA), is hoping that the Government projects in 2011 will give the sector a much-needed boost after a tough 2010. "There's likely to be some sector growth for small and medium enterprises (SME), once the Government projects, like the highway to Point Fortin, get started. If it doesn't happen, this could hamper growth in the sector. Many small businesses are suffering because of the economic climate." He called on the Government to put in place legislation that will give the SME sector preference in the procurement process.
Following tripartite discussions that began back in 2007, the previous government had agreed to look at awarding at least 10 per cent of its procurement and contracts to small businesses from supplies, catering and skills services to maintenance jobs at state-owned buildings and operations. SEBA is seeking to increase its small enterprises share of the "procurement pie" to 20 per cent. "We are hoping the Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise Development Minister Errol McLeod makes an announcement that he will be providing Cabinet with a note in relation to the fair share programme. This relates to the reserving for the SME sector a percentage of government contracts.
"In this way, the bigger contractors will not have a play in this. "In the absence of legislation, the sector will not have any share in state contracts." Until there is the "fair share" legislation, Adams hopes that the Government considers the SME sector when the construction of the highway to Point Fortin begins later this year. "Areas like rentals of equipment, increase in guesthouse rooms and increase in food vendors and transportation are just some opportunities that the small business sector will have when the highway construction begins." He agrees with the Government that 25,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created when the highway expansion begins, adding that the SME sector has to use this opportunity for growth.
Small businesses still grow
Despite the poor state of the economy, Adams said people are still opening businesses. In fact, because of the economy and the need for employment, people are opening their own businesses for survival. "People are looking for work in any economic downturn and when people lose jobs, they want to start a business to earn money and survive." Adams said about 20 people go to SEBA every month seeking advice on businesses they have started.
"They come for advice on marketing or on accounting or just general advice to get their businesses running." Adams said at least four people go to SEBA every month on how to start a new business.
"These are people who have not yet registered with the Ministry of Legal Affairs and who just want to get off the ground." He believes it is an indication that despite the prevailing economic circumstances, small businesses can survive.
Adams wants to see a restructuring in the lending agencies that do business with the SME sector. The state-owned National Entrepreneurship Development Company (Nedco) is one agency that provides micro financing to the SME sector. "I don't want to call names, but once there is restructuring in these lending agencies, they will perform better and will be better able to service small businesses. There is still an absence of boards in some of these agencies and we hope that can be dealt with quickly by the Government." Adams also asked how many representatives from the SME sector are on state boards.
"When I look at recent board appointments, I really don't see many people from this sector. I want to see the Government address this."
"Carnival is upon us. It is time for all the stakeholders to meet so that all can benefit from the season. Many small businesses do well during this time. Those who are caterers, food vendors, people who sell clothes to tourists. These are all legitimate entrepreneurs who have business during the year and do well during Carnival," he said.
The year ahead
Adams has expressed optimism that the SME sector will grow in 2011, but qualified this by saying that there needs to be the right economic conditions to enable growth. "People open new businesses every day. What is important is the lifespan of these businesses. The Government must partner with entrepreneurs to ensure that the SME sector survives," he said.