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Bahamas Striping using job govt program to grow market share

One small business comparing itself to David is out for the Goliath of its sector, looking to the National Job Readiness and Training Programme (NJRP) to load its sling with trained young Bahamians.

Often in the news as a success story from the government’s Self-Starter Programme, Bahamas Striping says it’s looking to the NJRP to give it a 71 percent boost in staff that would allow it to double its capacity, while training more Bahamians in the craft of striping.

“In the next five years in this country there are millions of dollars of striping work to be done and as a Bahamian company and as Bahamians we plan to be a big part of that,” said the company’s president Atario Mitchell, referencing projects like the ongoing roadwork, the national stadium project, and the Baha Mar gateway project as examples.

“What the government is doing, it’s great. They are giving Bahamians the opportunity to work. And that goes along with Bahamas Striping’s philosophy — we believe in training. That’s why we brought in a certified UK trainer to train us.”

He continued, “With our company and the other Bahamian companies there is no need for Roadgrip and Roger Morley to be in The Bahamas doing work that Bahamians can do.”

Roadgrip is a Bahamian-registered company headed by Morely that has been striping roads and other areas in the country for about 10 years, according to Mitchell.  Guardian Business contacted Roadgrip’s registered office in The Bahamas, but was not able to independently confirm how many Bahamians are employed by the company or have been trained by the company since it has been in The Bahamas.

One of the other local players in the market, Sherwin Burrows of Sherwin G Burrows Construction, expressed similar concerns about the amount of foreign competition, particularly Canadian, in the market.  He has been striping since 1981, and has a slew of projects under his belt, from the Town Centre Mall to many of the streets on Paradise Island and the three-tier parking lot there, according to Burrows.

At least from the perspective of the organization contracting the work, there may be a solid business case for why large foreign companies are able to secure the big contracts local companies often cannot – price.  Brian Bostock, a former Roadgrip trainer, told Guardian Business in an earlier interview that larger companies can buy materials in quantities and at price breaks that small companies could never compete with.

Burrows told Guardian Business his own experience with the challenge of price competition in bidding for a local contract for some New Providence and Family Island roadwork.

“My bid was around $750,000, there was another bid for $800,000 or so and another bid for $1.4 million, and [Roadgrip] came in and put in a bid for $200-and-something thousand.  “[That price] was unrealistic,” Burrows said, adding that he had to put down $5,000 just to bid on the project.

Guardian Business could not independently confirm the bid details Burrows outlined.  Nevertheless, if those kinds of differences in price exist, it makes a case for the large foreign company – whether the contracting organization is the government using taxpayer dollars or a private company with shareholders’ investments.

From Mitchell’s perspective, though, the issue is not with a foreign company, large or small, operating in The Bahamas, but with the fact that no Bahamians are being trained to do the work or take entrepreneurial opportunities from the operations.

The young entrepreneur is taking the NJRP as a home field advantage he intends to leverage into more market share.  Now with a certified trainer and hoping to take the firm’s employee numbers from seven to 12, Mitchell is hoping to be able to have crews on two projects simultaneously. He’s not intimidated by his competitors, and says his company is ready for the task at hand.

“If I’m going to do this business there are only two ways of doing it. Basically just go after the small jobs and be happy with that, or work hard, do whatever is required to have my company be at a set standard in reference to training, equipment, and training Bahamians,” Mitchell said.

“I made the decision that we are going to take the second option and we’re going to go for it all – we are not just interested in the small jobs. We are interested in the opportunity that the government has created.

HE continued, “When I got the $5,000 grant from the Self-Starter Programme, I did not see the bigger picture, but being a year in my company now I understand and see that I have a responsibility to make my country better.”

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