In central Trinidad, covered in tangled vines, towering trees and green vegetation as far as the eye can see, one can find the evidence of a once thriving cocoa, coffee and citrus industry.
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Cove Eco Park to reassess goals
Although $150 million dollars has been spent on Tobago’s Cove Industrial Park and Business Centre, its management company, Eco Industrial Development Company of Tobago (EIDCT) is in the process of re-assessing the park’s investment goals, as well as its plan for attracting in tenants. The Sunday BG spoke with EIDCT’s chief executive Bernard Mitchell on the park’s progress, since the first shell was constructed in 2012. The park is located in Canoe Bay, Lowlands.
Mitchell—who was appointed CEO in March this year after stints at TSTT and eTeck—said some of the areas currently under review include the park’s marketing strategy, its regional positioning and its contribution to GDP. “When a country invests in an industrial park, the return is not in the income generated from the park’s tenants but in its contribution to GDP.” This is a distinction, he thought, people did not appreciate.
“You have the investment that goes into the park, the taxes imposed on the businesses and its employees, as well as the multiplier effect, where when a business is established on the park, additional business is generated as other businesses have to supply goods and services,” Mitchell said.
He added: “Some of the analyses being undertaken at present include determining what the expected year-by-year contribution to GDP would be.” He is at present unsure what this figure would be. He said: “Some of the issues we are grappling with right now are in terms of matching what we’ve invested against what the expectations are.”
Mitchell said that, to date, construction has been completed for all of the core facilities of the park’s 140 acres, with plans to run more fiber optic cables throughout the park. The park already has technology that sees it having the Caricom region’s largest street solar lighting system and a waste water treatment facility for water reuse at the plant.
Though core facilities like the administration building, utility buildings and roadways have been completed, EIDCT is in the process of starting construction on two multi-purpose units to add to the two factory shells already on the park. The first of the two plants will be completed by November of this year and the second will be completed by March, 2015. He said each factory shell is designed to house two tenants and the multi-purpose units can each hold 13 tenants.
“By the end of June, we should have four signed tenants for the factory shells, apart from T&TEC and NGC.” The only tenant beside the National Gas Company and T&TEC, currently operating on the park is Rojas Engineering, a metal works company. Though all four factory shells are expected to be fully occupied by the end of June, the 75 lots earmarked for land-lease tenants have not been occupied.
“There are a number of factors to look at. First we have to look at whether or not people have alternatives.” Illustrating what he means, he said: “If, for example, we are looking at investors from Trinidad, we will look at where their market is located. If their market is in Trinidad, then it makes no sense for them to come to Tobago.”
From the angle of foreign investors, the EIDCT CEO said that the same applies, so the company has gone back to the drawing board to answer the question: what can we offer that is so unique they would want to locate here? According to Mitchell, “Presently what is required is for us to look at the overall value proposition that we offer at the park and see how it compares to other parks in the region, if we are to attract foreign investors.”
He described this as an ongoing process that is aimed at determining the critical factors that inform the investment decision-making process, so as to make sure the park is properly aligned with respect to attracting foreign business. Mitchell said selling the safety and security of Tobago was a part of EIDCT’s strategy to attract investors.
“The whole issue of safety and security in Tobago is one of the key factors. Some have indicated interest in coming to Tobago because they feel it’s safer and they can raise a family. We have to really focus on selling that dimension of Tobago as we seek to attract foreign investors.” In terms of investment areas in Tobago, the Sunday BG asked Mitchell what areas he thinks has the most potential for financial success. Mitchell recommended the agro-industrial and ICT sectors.
“Agriculture, because Tobago has great soil conditions and expertise in the field and our high food import bill means that there is a market for food products. ICT because those things tend to be energy intensive and we have a low energy cost.” Adding to that, he said: “Now we have fiber optic cables at the park, a plus for ICT.”
With reporting by Kwame Joseph