After being in operation for only seven months, the ExxonMobil-funded Centre for Local Business Development has already registered more than 400 Guyanese businesses in its database, surpassing its end-of-year target of 100 companies.
During a recent interview with Stabroek News, Director of the Centre, Patrick Henry stated that it has over 1,100 businesses registered in its portal, with over 40% of them being Guyanese businesses.
In July, Henry had told Stabroek News that some 40 businesses had already been registered and that they were aiming to have at least 100 by the end of the year.
However, the initial target was shattered after the number of registered businesses remarkably exceeded the Centre’s expectations.
This, he said, is credited to the companies’ interest in the industry and what is happening. “…The excitement, there’s also people understanding better that the industry is going to be accessed through that portal. So, I think that it is the idea that people understand that in order for them to be found then they have to be out there and put themselves out there to be accessed,” Henry said.
He explained that over the past months they have had over 200 persons visiting the office to register within the portal or to inquire on how to register.
“So, I think it is also just the ease of access that people may have not had previously and also persons would’ve thought that the process was intimidating. It’s easier now because they can come in and get registered or call us on the phone and be taken through a walkthrough. The Centre has made it a lot easier for businesses to get registered,” Henry explained.
To help the Centre extend its reach to businesses from all areas of the country, Henry explained that they have commenced outreach programmes and have completed one in New Amsterdam. The outreach was organized by the Berbice Chambers of Commerce and while he said the turnout was less than they expected, they have been able to register more than 40 businesses to participate in training courses on the Introduction of Offshore Oil and Gas and Procurement for Local Suppliers.
“It was a beginning in a sense that the turnout wasn’t great but I don’t think that’s an issue because it’s a start. Just like in Georgetown, initially we had a few people and it slowly ramped up to larger and larger events,” he said. A visit has since been made to Linden.
With respect to the training, Henry explained that the Centre has trained over 500 persons so far, and has had participation from over 200 businesses. As such, he noted that the message of the importance of the Centre is starting to spread, which is helping its database to grow.
In addition to the small and medium-sized businesses, which the Centre focuses on, Henry explained that they have 35 larger business currently going through more intensive long term courses that are being run by the Institute of Private Enterprise Development.
“So, we are taking their interest and are funneling it to get people into classes that are going to help their business to be able to compete,” Henry said.
When questioned about the weaknesses and disadvantages that the small and medium-sized businesses face, Henry responded that the lack of focus on health, safety and environment is the biggest issue.
“It really is a safety culture. Safety first for these companies and that is what we are starting now. After people get an overview of what the industry is, we are going to focus on health, safety and the environment and what it means for businesses. It is a process and those companies don’t expect you to have it ready by today, but they expect you to start working towards it and I think that will be the next big change,” Henry said, while stating that the Centre will be focusing heavily on training businesses about the importance of health, safety and the environment in the coming six months to ensure that they are all on the same playing field and have the criteria which are required for contracts.
In addition to being happy about the amount of businesses that have been participating and communicating with the Centre, Henry also said that the businesses have shown their commitment since they have had participation from high level management employees.
“In our training courses, businesses aren’t sending junior staff and that says something about the quality of the businesses and their commitment and investments they want to make. They get the opportunity, which is supposed to be from management down, and they take it and that is very telling of people’s level of commitment,” he added.
He explained that they expect to close the year with some 500 local businesses on their portal, 400 more than their original forecasted figure.
He said the Centre is very happy and pleased with the turnout that they have had so far and it shows that there are a lot of interested businesses who are all eager to participate in the Oil and Gas Industry. ExxonMobil is expected to begin pumping oil in 2020.
“What I would like to see by the end of three years is that we have these businesses actively in the portal and are engaging in the Centre and are getting training and ultimately getting contracts. We are learning from businesses and they are learning from us,” Henry added.