Hundreds of patrons, armed with their umbrellas, braved the gloomy weather on Thursday to show their support for GuyExpo 2016, which Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin said should be the launch pad for businesses seeking both local and foreign markets.
The sporadic rainfall did not hinder the supporters from pouring into the Sophia Exhibition Site on Thursday from as early as 4.30pm in anticipation of experiencing the expo, which was on a one-year hiatus.
With the country preparing to celebrate its 50th independence anniversary in two weeks, the venue sought to evoke patriotism. At the gate, there is a giant arch with Guyana flag decorations and the Golden Jubilee logo mounted on top. There were also black and white historical pictures on utility posts throughout the expo.
Music blared from various sides of the site—some of it live. On one side, steel pan music from the Guyana Police Force Steel Band and the GTBI/Buxton Steel Orchestra serenaded the invitees, including dignitaries who patiently waited for the start of the opening ceremony. On the other side, small business owners propped up their products in their small spaces in hopes of capturing the public’s attention and to get word out about their products. The small business owners all cooped up in a tent stood in contrast to the big companies and their extravagant booths.
While Gaskin said the expo must provide a baseline for which the country must progressively develop its economy, he also said that it needs to become more “foreign.” “Let’s be pragmatic about GuyExpo itself. In order for it to truly develop, it needs to have both local and foreign participation, but it needs to become a much more foreign affair, that is, it must attract foreign investors and buyers,” he said.
Gaskin noted that while the expo brings together the “best of Guyanese business,” it reflects a new and healthy partnership between the public and private sector. He said the event comes at a hefty price tag, which was met largely by the private sector, as without the sponsors there would be no expo.
Recognising Guyana’s unsuccessful attempts at creating new avenues for its value-added industries, Gaskin challenged the investors to add more focus to their efforts to ensure that the materials that are being exported have more value. And while he acknowledged the number of factors that affect manufacturing in Guyana, he urged the private sector to work along with the government to develop the manufacturing industry.
President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vishnu Doerga echoed his sentiments as he pointed out that more focus needs to be placed on the value of the major exports. Accepting the economic slowdown and dubbing it as “unfortunate,” he said it can serve as a timely reminder to keep the efficiency level acceptable and to add more value. “Our fertile soil, which has supported our agriculture sector, needs to be supplemented by a vibrant agro processing sector in order to realise our role as a food basket for the 15 million plus Caricom residents and further beyond,” he added, stating that there is a need to diversify into non resource depleting commercial activities, such as information technology, telecommunication, tourism, business process outsourcing and the creative industry, which he said would be complimented by the liberalisation of the telecommunications industry.
While the expo was flooded with small business owners waiting for their opportunity make the next step, Deorga addressed the issue of entrepreneur training in the country and made a call for entrepreneurship to become as important as the sciences in the education system. “Students must leave our school system full aware and educated about the process of turning ideas into reality. For current and aspiring entrepreneurs to know the value of education more than the thirst for financing needs to be addressed,” he said, stating that there is a correlation between high failure rates, in the first five years for entrepreneurs, and their training. “Would you visit a doctor or lawyer or even employ a manager who had a month of training and limited experience?” Doerga questioned.
He strongly encouraged all businesses, especially the small ones, to access business support organisations, especially from the Georgetown Chamber, as they are also focused on the growth of the business sector and stated that each stakeholder will also have to play a major role in the time to come. It was also announced that the businesses will be able to partake in workshops over the coming days.
He said he expects a level of innovation and investment that takes advantage of the support that is and will be available as the businesses have potential to become Guyana’s engines of growth. “I believe that Guyana can deliver world class products which can stand their ground to be an easy choice for local and foreign consumers,” he said, asserting that it is time to demonstrate, in action more than words, that Guyana truly means business.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Managing Director of GeoTech Vision Valrie Grant, who also highlighted the importance of entrepreneurship training and education.
While the expo provided a rare and extraordinary opportunity for small businesses to showcase their products, most of them were content and basked in the opportunity while others believed that more could’ve been done, especially in the preparation of the venue.
It wasn’t the first expo for founder of BowJay Jenell Pierre, who said she has been taking part since 2011. “It’s always good to be able to showcase your business, especially alongside all the big companies. Even if they don’t know about you, you’re going to get people passing through that might have come to see the big companies and that’s always a plus,” she pointed out. She said she would encourage all small business owners to take the opportunity and take part in the expo as it is great exposure and only have positive outcomes.
However, she highlighted the faults in the infrastructure. She explained that the booths were too small and fragile. Some of the walls were shaky and exhibitors and patrons were forced to walk through a poorly ventilated tent that made it difficult to breathe when the crowd was passing through. “The ventilation is bad, the space is small, and you have to pay $40,000 for all of this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great opportunity but they could’ve done it better. The annex where we would be at the previous expos were way better than this,” she explained.
Other exhibitors expressed the same feeling and gratitude at the opportunity but also condemned the infrastructure. “It’s hot, hot, hot and when the place pack you can’t even breathe properly. Because the rain fall, the back close off but they shoulda cater for that ’cause it’s uncomfortable in here,” one of the exhibitors said.
Others were surprised as to the turnout of the crowd on Thursday night since the weather was threatening. “In terms of the crowd, I am surprised because it was raining all the time and plus it’s the first day so you don’t really expect all of these people but it’s been good,” Pierre said, while noting that the first day crowd shows a positive sign and the expo has the potential to be the biggest and most influential one so far for the small business owners.
The expo will continue until Sunday and booths will be opened as early as 3 pm.