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Friday, November 17 2017 @ 10:32 PM AST

Gopee-Scoon: $3 billion in new local investments by 2020

...new Hadco ice cream factory, another distribution centre, construction projects

Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has calculated about $3 billion in new local investments in Trinidad and Tobago over the next two to three years. Speaking to reporters yesterday (Nov. 7) after the opening of the Unicomer US$50 million logistics hub for the Eastern Caribbean and parts of South America, Gopee-Scoon said: "What is so significant is the level of local investment, and the significance has to do with confidence in the economy and confidence in the stability of the government, because the government is stable, and of course, businesses (are) preparing for the future, understanding that what we're going through will not last forever. You know, economies are cyclical and people are preparing for the future."

She said: "I am particularly proud of our local businesses. I can tell you it's billions of dollars. I have calculated, and I would say there is close to $3 billion worth of new business that I'm aware of, that we're going to see unveiled over the next two to three years."

In which sectors? She said: "Certainly in the construction sector with the new private housing developments,... in the import and distribution business and in the manufacturing sector as well. There are a number of new projects coming in. A new ice cream factory which will start in January. It's an existing local company. They're traditionally importers and they're doing something entirely new, getting into manufacturing."

Asked for details on the company, she said: "All I can say is that it's the Hadco Group, so I'm quite excited about it, and they will be manufacturing ice cream, and all kinds of ice cream cones as well for the export market." With seven shops across the country, Hadco is the local franchise holder of Haagen Dazs ice cream, and also distributor of Ben & Jerry's.

CENTRAL TRINIDAD STILL EXPANDING

Gopee-Scoon added: "We have had significant requests for land use in this Freeport area. Again, it's an extension of Central Trinidad. It's an extension of Chaguanas and I see this as an emerging business and commercial activity area."

She said one of the requests is for another distribution centre in Freeport, similar to Unicomer's facility for Courts furniture stores. Gopee-Scoon also said an additional 133 acres of state lands have been passed on to eTeck for further development of its industrial park at south of the Point Lisas estate.

Unicomer Executive Vice President Guillermo Siman told guests at the opening yesterday the 240,000 square feet facility was designed by a Mexican architect and employed 1,000 persons during the two-year construction period. Siman expects to permanently employ 600 persons at the Freeport facility. The Unicomer group, which, apart from Courts, also operates Radioshack, Courts Optical, ServiTech, and Ashley furniture store, now employs 853 persons permanently in T&T.

As companies that only import, sell and then repatriate profits caught the attention of Finance Minister Colm Imbert as a source of high foreign exchange outflow, Siman was asked if the investment in Freeport was a de facto retention of profits the group could not send back. "No, not at all. Listen, we're very good businessmen and business owners, and we don't make our decisions based on that. We make our decisions based on the importance of the T&T market. T&T is probably one of the strongest markets that we have in the whole operation of Unicomer," he said. The El Salvador-based Unicomer, owned by the Siman family, has stores in the United States, Central, South America and the Caribbean.

T&T, JAMAICA STILL GOOD BUYERS

"Clearly, T&T and Jamaica are the strongest markets in the Caribbean. That (investment) was a decision based on here. T&T also, when you compare it to Jamaica - and we love Jamaica, we also have very strong operations there - is like a hub in the middle of all of the (Eastern Caribbean countries). We have Guyana very close, and South America very close, so it only makes sense from a logistical perspective to be here. Also we've probably found some of the best entrepreneurs in T&T who know what's going on in the market, and (with whom) we partner many times."

Still on the availability of foreign exchange to importers, Siman said: "It has been an issue but it only started when oil prices went down, but we've been able to manage, and of course, we have very good relations with our bankers locally, and we've been able to manage so far."

He said: "It (forex availability) is affecting everybody, and I got to tell you that many of the local contractors would ask us if we could pay in US dollars so that they can import some of the products that we needed. That is a reality." He said, however, this was not always possible.

Turning to areas still ripe for investment, Siman said: "We've talked to the minister. There are areas where there are a lot of opportunities - solar and renewable energy. They're trying to do something there, but there are things that need to be changed to be able to allow for that." For example, he said: "I would think for some of the utility companies to react a little bit faster to the needs of the foreign direct investor, to be able to set up business." During his speech, spontaneous applause erupted from the audience when he said: "Thank you to the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) and the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) for finally connecting these basic services."

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