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Below is the Prime Minister’s full speech at the event:
We are gathered here today to launch the PROCOM Challenge, an initiative, crucial and relevant to our ongoing reforms in enhancing productivity and competitiveness in Saint Lucia. We have known for quite some time that low productivity is a huge problem in Saint Lucia. Our development partners have constantly told us to focus on improving productivity and becoming more competitive to foster higher and sustained levels of economic growth.
INNOVATION, A DRIVING FACTOR
It is now well established that innovation is a driving factor for greater levels of productivity and competitiveness. It is therefore important that we create the enabling environment to encourage and spur innovation as part of our pledge to boost economic growth and development. To this end, we are pleased to be partnering with the NCPC to launch the PROCOM Challenge.
Now what is the “Procom Challenge”?
WHAT IS THE PROCOM CHALLENGE?
The PROCOM Challenge is an initiative aimed at supporting micro, small and medium enterprises by co-financing the development of innovative solutions to enhance productivity and competitiveness.
The PROCOM Challenge will provide grant assistance to businesses for projects aimed at:
Adopting new technologies to reduce energy costs;
Improving operational efficiencies;
Pursuing standards compliance for greater export competitiveness; and
Re-engineering business processes to create greater value and productivity.
WHY A PROCOM CHALLENGE?
Frankly, I am exceedingly pleased that we are reaching out to the small business sector, a sector that has huge potential to create growth and employment.
The PROCOM Challenge was conceptualized by the NCPC with funding assistance from Compete Caribbean. It is a policy response to the domestic challenges highlighted during consultations with the private sector as part of the NCPC Productivity Assessment Study.
Research from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) suggests that a unit increase in “innovation expenditure” increases labor productivity by 63 percent. While the importance of innovation is understood by the business community, micro and small businesses in Saint Lucia have reported that a major challenge has been accessing financing for these ventures.
As a Government, we have noted these challenges. We understand that innovation projects are often expensive undertakings due to the associated risk. Therefore, as part of our commitment in supporting firms to be more productive and competitive, the Government of Saint Lucia, through the NCPC, will be financing the PROCOM Challenge.
We certainly can learn from the experiences of other countries. It has been found that “Innovation Challenges” similar to the PROCOM Challenge, are implemented in many countries looking to improve productivity and competitiveness through innovation. On average over 20 percent of firms in advanced economies receive public support for innovation, compared to less than 5 percent in our region. While we can appreciate this may be a result of the fiscal challenges faced by Caribbean Governments, the Government of Saint Lucia understands the importance of such programs and aims to be an active enabler by encouraging the business community to implement reforms that are geared towards improving their productivity and competitiveness through innovative projects, efficiency enhancers and business solutions.
ADMINISTRATION OF THE PROCOM CHALLENGE
The PROCOM Challenge will be currently managed and administered within the confines of the NCPC, given the size of the initial endowment. This is to allow greater cost and operational efficiency. The NCPC has ensured that all administrative arrangements and documentation are in place to foster transparency, accountability and efficiency of the process. However, as the PROCOM Challenge grows, we may transfer the administration and management of the Challenge to a Private Fund Administrator.
CALL TO BUSINESS OWNERS
We invite all micro, small and medium business owners to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance their productivity and competitiveness by participating in the call for applications. We want to empower business leaders to be innovative and creative in developing projects that will revolutionize the business sector. The Government is quite eager in partnering with you to implement actions that can lead to more productive businesses and work places.
However, we urge you to take this process very serious, be committed and sincere in participating in this Challenge. We want this to be successful so that others can also benefit. It is our hope that the wider business community can replicate or benefit from the business solutions implemented by beneficiaries of this Challenge.
The Government of Saint Lucia through the PROCOM Challenge has once again demonstrated its commitment towards growing the economy by improving the business environment and growing the private sector, for greater job generation and improved living standards for all Saint Lucians.
We have taken the first important step by providing seed capital for this project. We are therefore looking forward to the success of the PROCOM Challenge and to build upon that success by partnering with the private sector especially the financial institutions and other key stakeholders for continued sustainability and growth of this initiative.
CONCLUSION: A DEDICATED EFFORT
Once again, I would like to applaud the NCPC for the hard and dedicated effort in completing the background work to develop and implement this undertaking. The establishment of the PROCOM Challenge is indeed a significant project of the Council which supports its objective of enhancing both productivity and competitiveness of businesses in Saint Lucia.
I thank you.