Mon | Dec 11, 2023

Ready or not!

Manchester interests urged to look beyond highway works inconvenience, diversify offerings

Published:Wednesday | April 27, 2022 | 12:06 AMTamara Bailey/Gleaner Writer
Simone Spence-Johnson, president, Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
Simone Spence-Johnson, president, Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

Heads of commerce and parish development in Manchester are calling on entrepreneurs and visionaries to look beyond short-term inconveniences of road construction and diversify offerings across industries, to meet anticipated demands ahead of the completion of one the biggest developments – May Pen to Williamsfield leg of the Highway 2000, expected to drive growth in the central region.

With works approximately 70 per cent complete, the most recent update is the traffic diversion, which will on Sunday, May 1 see the implementation of one-way zone on Melrose bypass for commuters heading from the east, while those heading from Mandeville will utilise the old Melrose road, which will remain a dual carriage for all vehicles.

Managing director of National Road Operating and Constructing Company (NROCC), Stephen Edwards, told The Gleaner that overall works are moving rapidly with paving having started in a number of areas and all things on track for March 2023 completion.

However, this recent traffic diversion, which signals advancement of infrastructural works and will be in effect for seven months, has been described as bittersweet, particularly by motorists who will have to take a longer route and vendors at the Melrose Yam Park, who will again experience a lull in business, having resumed operations just four months ago, after a four-month closure last year.

Chairman of the Manchester Development Committee, Tony Freckleton, who told The Gleaner that some level of inconvenience has to be suffered for the greater good, is hoping that individuals will adapt to present and imminent development.

“… We are not ready yet but some things have to be done concurrently and consecutively. Before you know it, March 2023 will come around and we will all be enjoying the new highway. This is going to mean so much for the parish of Manchester because of the level of investment that is going to pour into the area.”

Freckleton said he has already been in dialogue with potential investors who see the economic viability of the parish and just how much more it can advance with the pending developments.

“There is a US$60-billion alternate energy business that is looking to start in our parish, a sizeable investment that we are hoping will come around. Also, I have been speaking with a number of agro-processing industries in Kingston and St Catherine and they want to set up shop here closer to their sources … that would mean a significant increase in jobs,” said Freckleton.

He added: “It is a glorious opportunity to bear with the seven-month inconvenience and ensure that first of all the vendors down in the yam park are facilitated in the new dispensation and that the old road is readied for the expected switchover.”

While vendors remain hopeful that NROCC and the Manchester Municipal Corporation will materialise the idea of securing additional stalls along the new highway, Edwards said he cannot yet speak to that, but acknowledged that the highway will bring opportunities that will develop over time.

Underscoring the importance of ease of doing business as a necessary element for economic success, Freckleton said the committee has identified approximately 10 townships across the parish that will need development to balance the high levels of traffic expected, all while working towards to overall traffic management systems.

“We are perfectly poised to take off some of the excess of the capital city. Easy access to the ports, less security costs, less operational cost and we have a fairly good educated population to tap into,” Freckleton noted.

Among the industries to boom, according to president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Simone Spence-Johnson, is real estate, which she said has already been on the uptick with persons showing an increased interest in buying properties within the next one to two years, with plans to relocate to the parish.

She added that existing entrepreneurs should be looking at modernising business to meet the demands in the virtual space for greater convenience and interesting major companies with no branch yet established in the parish.

“We can never be 100 per cent ready but it is for us to work with the changes as we go along. It is for us to work together as stakeholders for the business community to see how we can help with the transition process. Ready or not, it is coming and we have to position ourselves.”