The fervent plea for ‘innovation’ was the cohesive thread among the keynote speakers at e TecK’s High Value Manufacturing Cluster Launch, which was held at the Trinidad Hilton on April 29th.
The Cluster Initiative provides support for a group of interconnected companies, educational and research institutes and associations, developing linkages between the members and gaining importance from the synergies between stakeholders in order to minimize business expenses for research and development, and streamline production and distribution channels.
“We have to re-train ourselves… how we view ourselves, how we conduct business, what we do. Hopefully the cluster is going to be assisting there in terms of moving our industries into the high-value areas.”
The issue at hand, as Dr. Thompson identified, is ‘business sophistication’: we must move up the value chain in the types of products and services that we offer.
She reiterated that we should no longer be satisfied with producing the best cocoa beans in the world at $3US a kilogram, but we should move towards producing the best chocolate in the world for $1500US a kilogram.
“Farmers must start thinking of themselves as not just farmers but as businessmen, engaging in the industry in terms of pushing what they do up the value chain,” she said.
“What we see in the cocoa industry is repeated in all different areas. We think for some reason that we can’t market our own stuff, when we can. We cannot just say ‘Well we’re a small market’. We need to recognize that the world is always there.”
Dr. Prakash Persad, Professor of Design and Manufacturing at UTT, also believes that the problem lies in the culture and mindset of the population.
“We seem to lack the confidence,” he said, addressing the attendees. “We need to change the ‘parlour mentality’ of just buying and selling.”
Dr. Persad lamented the deficiencies in the country’s legislative framework, particularly the lack of the enforcement of intellectual property laws for the manufacturing sector.
“To publish is to perish,” he explained. “Once your research is published by a tertiary institution, it belongs to the public. If you publish, you can’t get ownership within a year, and the patent process takes up to five years.”
Safeguarding Intellectual Property
Greig Laughlin, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturing Association, added that there is a general ‘mistrust’ between students and the business community which acts as a barrier to innovation.
“We are very innovative in partying, fete and all that, but where we lag behind is in business innovation,” he stated. “The real problem is the lack of an IP policy to help students… The cost of innovation is the real key.”
The Cluster Initiative, which has been undertaken over the last three years throughout the twin island, is also core to the construction and development of e TecK’s eco-industrial Tamana InTech Park in Wallerfield, north-east Trinidad, which is expected to be opened later this year.
Tamana InTech Park offers the benefits of corporate clustering within four sectors: Information Communication and Technology (ICT), Agro-Industrial, High Value Manufacturing and Mixed Use.
The corporate clustering format of the Park will provide a managed environment in which similar businesses and industries will interconnect to create innovation solutions and increase productivity, allowing them to compete on a global scale.