Trinis positioning themselves for Barbados take-off

(Barbados Nation) While Barbadian businesses gripe about how bad the economy is performing, Trinidadians are investing heavily in the country and positioning themselves for an economic turnaround they believe will come soon.

Two key executives from major Trinidadian corporations have expressed a high level of confidence in Barbados by putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy – investments that some here view with suspicion and even resentment, likening it to a Trini takeover.

But even with the depressed nature of Barbados’ economic fortunes over the past four years, the regional business leaders view the country’s long-term economic position as positive, citing the island’s track record for remaining steadfast in the face of crises.

Larry Howai, chief executive officer (CEO) of First Citizens, Trinidad’s largest bank which has agreed to pay B$90 million for Butterfield Bank Barbados, and Christian Mouttet, the young, savvy CEO of Victor E. Mouttet & Co. (VEMCO), one of Trinidad’s leading corporations, have said as much.

Mouttet’s family business – the major shareholder of Prestige Holdings, which has pumped about B$100 million into Barbados in the last five years with investments such as Courtyard by Marriott, TGI Friday’s, The Pavilion in Hastings and the just opened Payless ShoeSource – is about to start construction within the next 60 days of the B$20 million mega mall in Welches, St Thomas.

And this is only the first phase of the Welches investment.

The company is strategically positioning itself on the outskirts of the burgeoning Warrens commercial district and showing that Barbados remains one the most attractive places to invest in the Caribbean.

According to the VEMCO top executive: “We know things are not very buoyant now but . . . Barbados over the years has shown itself resilient and it is a disciplined place.”

But despite the obvious benefits to the economy of investment by the island’s oil-rich neighbour, some Barbadians are not happy about the growing Trini money influence.

As Kay-rani Rosita wrote on The Nation’s Facebook page last week following Mouttet’s announcement: “You are happy to be the tenant as opposed to being the landlord in your own country? No! It is not very good news for Barbados. If Barbados owned much in Trinidad then that would indeed be good news. You’re supposed to own the lion’s share in your own country with others owning a minority share, if at all.”

Pan Wallie wrote: “For God’s sake, Dr DeLisle Worrell, how far away is Trinidad and Tobago from owning Barbados?”

Frank Husbands countered: “This is a blessing for Barbados. Despite the foolish talk coming from some quarters about T&T owning everything now in Barbados, we in Barbados must understand the need to be aligned with our neighbour – an oil-rich economy.”

Even Sharon Christopher, deputy CEO of First Citizens, admitted recently that there was a degree of anti-Trinidad sentiment in Barbados, while assessing that this was likely to be one of the key challenges it would face if the Trinidadian bank got regulatory approval for the Butterfield Bank buyout.

She said the company wanted earnestly for the local public to trust the institution and accept it was not here to deprive Barbados of anything.

But it appears that the Trinidadians are seeing something in the Barbados economy that the local business community has not caught on to or viewed as valuable.

Mariano Browne, former managing director of Butterfield Bank and former junior finance minister in the Patrick Manning administration in Trinidad and Tobago, said there were perfectly good reasons for the aggressive nature of the Trinidadian business class that was on a path to seek new territories to conquer with its store of oil cash.

“Trinidad is a much more diverse and less homogenous society and so there is a much less homogenous business community than [in] Barbados.

“So you will find the level of competition in Trinidad and Tobago is far more intense than the competition in Barbados. I’m not saying that there isn’t competition here but in Trinidad it is far more intense and there is a greater degree of rivalry,” Browne said.

More significant

“Secondly, as an ethos, business has a lot to do with relationships and longstanding relationships in Barbados. While in Trinidad, it depends on relationships, but price is a much more significant factor.

“I will do business with someone who gives me the right sort of pricing as distinct from somebody I’ve known for a long time,” he explained.

The laid-back, conservative approach to doing business that has worked for hundreds of years may have become Barbados’ Achilles heel, according to Browne, who lives in Trinidad but maintains a home and has familial ties in Barbados.

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