In Jamaica, Mirant will partner its economic development efforts with Jamaican Promotion Agency (Jampro).
“Our philosophy is to operate in a public-private sector partnership,” says JR Harris, who oversees Mirant Caribbean. “Jampro represents the government side of investment in Jamaica, and we represent the private sector.”
The partnership has attracted call and service centres, a sector identified by Jampro for development. “The call-centre industry is a good fit for Jamaica,” says Mr Harris. “Education and language levels are relatively high there. The island is not as competitive as the Philippines and India, but they can do niche work.”
Among such companies that have located there is Overdrive of Cleveland, Ohio. It repackages books on the internet, such as those published by McGraw Hill, Simon & Schuster, AOL Time Warner, Random House, Harper Collins and Black’s Guide.
“At the time, the United States was experiencing the dotcom bubble. It was hard to find people to work in this industry,” says Steve Potash, Overdrive CEO.
In his search for a location, he found Jamaica offered a trainable, low-cost workforce, a good telecommunications network and reliable utilities.
Among the other industries that Jampro asked Mirant to address are agribusiness, fisheries, tourism and general investment. In that effort, the utility held a trade mission in which 20 Jamaican companies came to Atlanta to match with over 200 local companies. “We had an average of 10 appointments per Jamaican company,” says Mr Harris.
In Jamaica, Mirant helps companies understand trade initiatives such as Caricom. “We helped to facilitate representatives within the Jamaican government to come to Washington DC to discuss economic development with US policymakers,” Mr Harris says. “By getting Americans and Jamaicans together, we are able to dispel some of the myths people have about the Caribbean island.”
Mirant became involved in Jamaica in 2001 when it acquired 80% of Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo). A fully integrated utility, JPSCo is the sole provider of electricity on the island of Jamaica.
Mirant has also invested in two separate projects in Curaçao. In September 2001, Mirant entered into an existing partnership with Mitsubishi Corporation and Aqualectra by acquiring a 25.5% ownership interest in Curaçao Utilities Company. In December 2001, Mirant completed a strategic investment in Aqualectra, an integrated water and electric utility.
In helping develop this Dutch protectorate’s economic development, Mirant is currently assisting in the education and hotel sector.
“The University of Netherlands Antilles is looking to team with a US-based university,” Mr Harris says. “They are very interested in attracting an art and a culinary school to the island. Curaçao is seeking much more high-end development because there is more going on culturally on the island than many other Caribbean islands.”
On the plus side in doing business in Curaçao, Mr Harris explains, is the island’s sophisticated economy, multi-lingual population and opportunities in the petrol-chemical sector. “There is a large oil refinery on the island,” he says.
Large gas reserves
Mirant formed the Power Generation Company of Trinidad and Tobago (PowerGen) in 1994. Along with its partners, Mirant acquired three gas-fired generating plants on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean. “The largest industrial sector for Trinidad is the island’s large supply of natural gas,” Mr Harris says. “It is one of the few investment grades in the Caribbean.”
He points to opportunities in menthol and ammonia: “Now that liquid natural gas can be liquefied and shipped to the US, large gas and petroleum companies are looking into the business. We are also looking at the possibilities of bringing the energy into the greater Caribbean through Caricom through transportation networks and terminals in Jamaica or Grand Bahama. We are located in all these places; we can often assist.”
Island of potential
Mirant acquired a 50% interest in Grand Bahama Power Company in 1993 and then expanded its ownership to 55.4%. Located on Grand Bahama Island, in the Bahamas, Grand Bahama Power is an integrated utility that generates, transmits, distributes and sells electricity on the island. Mr Harris stressed the potential the island has thanks to large port investments by Hutchison Whampoa.
“The island has also attracted an investment by US pharmaceutical company Pharma Chem,” he says. “The company has recently developed an Aids cocktail approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the FDA has not approved the company’s facilities in the US. So Pharma Chem is shipping its product around the world.”
Mirant has an ownership interest in eight plants in the Philippines, providing the country with the energy essential for its growth. Mirant is the largest foreign investor in the country and was the first company to respond to the Philippines’ request for private-sector assistance to meet growing electricity demands in the late 1980s.
Nearly all of the capacity from Mirant’s generating plants in the Philippines is under long-term energy conversion agreements with National Power Corporation, the national electric company. Mirant also has energy supply agreements with a number of large industrial and commercial customers.
Mirant’s economic development partnership with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority attracts foreign investment and industry. This programme has recently helped two US-based IT companies with combined job generation of over 1200 employees to locate their call centres in the Philippines.