Published On: Mon, Aug 1st, 2022

When opportunity knocks

By Hilbert Haar

Our story about the Pott rum factory shows that it is possible to have foreign investors come to the island that offer meaningful employment to locals. But the complaint is more often than not, rightly or wrongly, that foreign investors prefer to bring in employees from their own country, leaving local jobseekers on the sidelines.

It does not have to be that way. The question is of course: if foreign investors see a business opportunity, why do St. Maarteners not see the same thing and act upon it?

Related article: A nose for business

Look for instance at the jewelry stores on Front Street. The late Gerard Bijnsdorp once wrote a hilarious piece about them under the headline Cycling through Bombay. Or look at the Chinese mini markets. Somehow, all these people manage to make a living but it cannot be denied that the jewelers predominantly employ Indian people and the Chinese entrepreneurs also stick to their own.

Complaining about such situations does not make a lot of sense. Complaints seldom result in changes. Asking why this is so, makes more sense. Then we quickly arrive at our country’s immigration and work permit legislation and in particular, at their enforcement, or rather, the lack of enforcement.

But I don’t want to go there. I would like to point out that taking action is the best way to achieve a goal. There are plenty of business opportunities on our island, but it is almost an art to smell them and to turn them into a viable business. Based on results, not many St. Maarteners master that art: supermarkets are operated by Indians and Chinese, while locals complain about their prices.

The late soccer legend Johan Cruijff once famously stated: “Every disadvantage has its advantage.”

Yeah, maybe you think this is funny and maybe you think that does not make sense. But Cruijff definitely had a point.

Take the situation with the sargassum that is invading our beaches. That’s a problem.

Right? But could it also be an opportunity?

In Mexico they know how to deal with this stuff. They harvest it, they dry it, they clean it and they turn it into an array of products. The website villapalmarcancun.com lists five options: paper products, cosmetics and skin care products, cocktail drinks, bricks for house construction and fertilizer.

Let’s pick just one, okay? Bricks for house construction. The site has this to say:”Sargassum bricks are manufactured with the same technique as adobe bricks. The use of this seaweed can reduce the cost of building homes by up to 50 percent.” Given the price of housing on St. Maarten, this idea alone should get somebody’s attention.

And the raw material is free: all you have to do is pick it up and do something with it. It is hard work, for sure, and I can think of better ways to generate an income (like writing this column) but come on people: if push comes to shove and you feel you are with your back against the wall you have to take action.

As I read once on a banner in front of the ministry of agriculture in Anguilla: Farm today, or die tomorrow.

On the Indonesian island of Lembongan the seaweed-industry is alive and kicking. Locals collect the weeds, dry them and sell them as a raw material that is used in the pharmaceutical and the cosmetics industry. A local restaurant hosts a Mr. and Mrs. Seaweed pageant.

The Indonesians who are working the seaweed are not always young and strong. I have seen people doing this job who look like they belong in a nursing home. They simply do what they have to do. In other words, they are resilient. Is that not what St. Maarteners like to say about themselves?

Now I don’t want to suggest that every St. Maartener who is unable to find a job, or who is unhappy with his job, should become a sargassum-farmer.

My advice would be: use your imagination. Discover what you are good at, what you would most love to do and turn that into a viable business. But please, don’t sit around and complain, because that is not going to get you anywhere.

When opportunity knocks, answer the call.


Related articles:
How Pott Rum disappeared from St. Maarten
Column Terrance Rey – Een neus voor zaken