By Richard Harrison
San Ignacio once had a thriving agro-forestry-based economy up to mid-1980s….supplying the country’s need for corn, beans, timber, vegetables and fruits.
The town bustled EVERY weekend, with trading at the markets during the day….stores used to remain open until 9pm….and several popular entertainment spots filled to capacity with spending customers until 3am….sometimes with two live bands playing in the same place on the same night! Violent crimes were few and far between….no business or home had security guards….during the summer months, most people slept with their windows wide open to allow cool air into their homes.
My mom operated one of the more popular restaurants Tony’s Inn, and I used to sweep the floor….so I know…..I used to pick up lots of coins off the floor that people would drop and not bother to pick up…enough to treat my friends at school. Today you cannot pick up a red cent off the floor….things are relatively much tighter.
Since then, San Ignacio and surrounding areas have shifted so that it now leans heavily on tourism….with peak season from November to April and slow season from May to October (following the winter pattern in the USA). This, and government-related teaching, health and services jobs.
So that….San Ignacio now comes alive mid-month and end-of-month when the government paychecks are cashed….and gets a boost between November and April, when the tourism jobs are most available. When it is slow….it is really slow.
San Ignacio needs a more balanced and diversified economy….so that its population can live a high standard of living all year round.
Light industries play a big role in the San Ignacio economy….they bring income from other parts of the country to work for the people of the town….Big H juice, Medina’s Furniture, Lea’s Furniture, New Hope Trading Furniture, Pine Lumber Company, Running W Meats, etc……all these businesses generate steady year-round income stream for San Ignacio…mostly without ecological or environmental impact. These need a stronger wind under their wings….and the enabling environment for similar new industries need to be created and enhanced.
Education services are also a growing income earner….with Sacred Heart Junior College, CET and Galen University attracting students from other parts of the country and from abroad. Study-abroad programs bring US, Canadian, Australian and Japanese students to San Ignacio in growing numbers. These students demand food, rooms, transportation, entertainment, etc. These education programs need major investments to be able to grow in variety, quality and quantity….for the benefit of more of our own students, as well as students from abroad.
The health services are also attracting clients across the country and from Guatemala and beyond….a public-private sector system for new investments for delivery of high-quality health services can generate a lot of jobs and income for San Ignacio. San Ignacio can also develop a home-health care system that can be replicated across the country….to improve the lives of cancer, diabetic, heart and other patients, as well as provide better services that keep our senior population healthy and happy….creating many opportunities for nurses and other health care providers.
St. Martins Credit Union has grown significantly….and can form the bedrock of a new formula for mortgage financing to allow for rapid increase in new home construction….which is needed in the San Ignacio area…and would create the amount and kinds of new jobs that the area needs to move towards full employment. This fomenting would be the most efficient and effective use of PetroCaribe concessionary funds….so that mortgages can be financed and refinanced at 6.25% p.a., with 20-30 year terms. The demand for new homes would blossom to around 500 per year, creating over 600 full-time jobs for the area.
Tourism must continue to grow….and focus must be more on increasing quality and value…increasing throughput for higher occupancy….targeting more local and foreign tourism….with greater emphasis placed on developing the San Ignacio and Bullet Tree water fronts to its highest value (develop them like prime beach front property)….the Cahal Pech and Pilar Mayan temples…and the historic downtown shopping and entertainment district.
San Ignacio area has a mostly youthful population….and sports is a good investment with health benefits….but also with economic benefits. It can also be used to develop good cultural and competitive behavior and habits. San Ignacio and big sports and sporting events should become synonymous…with focus on attracting sports enthusiasts from all over the country, as well as from neighboring countries…on a regular basis.
The town needs to develop an efficient and effective transportation system that can accommodate the increasing intransit and domestic traffic. People need to move around at least cost, in the shortest time, with the greatest comfort and convenience. The enabling infrastructure needs to be made based on a long-term vision….with a Private-Public-Investment formula.
Citizens and visitors must feel safe and secure at all hours of the day…..investments need to be made in more and better security….especially areas where a lot of people congregate. A low unemployment community will likely be more safe….but this should not be taken for granted….and the strategic allocation of resources formed from greater cooperation between central and local governments and community stakeholders should achieve more and better security.
The people of San Ignacio must not isolate themselves from the resources of the wider Cayo district….and must take special interest in the development of areas that can provide jobs and businesses for its people….Mountain Pine Ridge, Thousand Foot Falls and Rio On Caves, Xunantunich, Actun Tunich Muknal caves, Belize River, Mopan River, Mollejon Dam, etc. are no where near their full potential, and needs development. Leadership should promote the annual investment of $6 million in a massive reforestation program for the district (especially Pine Ridge), which would employ hundreds of young people from the entire area….and must take special interest in mining industries….for limestone, clay and granite, which are abundant…but also for river stone and sand, on a sustainable basis…with a view to supplying more of the entire countries needs for aggregates and home-construction materials.
This is a cursory view that takes into account what I have been hearing from the people of San Ignacio and Bullet Tree…feel free to help build on this.
“To the person who does not know where he wants to go there is no favorable wind.”
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
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