Jamaican businesses brace for Hurricane Beryl’s impact

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt among its ranks, the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ) says its members could scarcely survive a hit from Hurricane Beryl.

“We can’t afford to take another hit,” said SBAJ President Michael Lecky while speaking with Loop News on Monday. He mentioned that the association’s members were anxiously preparing for and bracing for the potential impact of the approaching hurricane on their businesses.

Meanwhile, President of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), Sydney Thwaites, said his members were also taking the approaching hurricane seriously.

As to how manufacturers and exporters could be impacted, Thwaites said, “It’s hard to tell right now. There are varying approaches. There are some who are closing on Wednesday for sure. Some are closing between Tuesday and Wednesday, and some are waiting to see how it goes on Tuesday and then making a decision based on the latest forecast.”

“So, it kind of depends on the company and the approach, but everybody is very aware of it, and everybody is using the approach that is befitting their business,” Thwaites added.

SBAJ President Michael Lecky

In the meantime, Lecky said the SBAJ’s more than 4,000 members were taking the hurricane seriously. “What is happening is that all the notifications, alerts, and information coming out of the weather office (Meteorological Service) we have posted on our website and in our WhatsApp group, urging members to take the necessary precautions because we can’t afford another hit,” Lecky reiterated.

“Why I refer to it as another (potential) hit? Because we are just coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are still trying to recover. We had a 40 per cent closure of small businesses and we’re still trying to get back on our feet,” Lecky added.

He acknowledged that the government has offered a lifeline through several grants but said, “the real grant that we want is really working capital more than anything else.” Lecky also said, “I didn’t see a line item in the (national budget) specifically for us.” He emphasized that any significant impact from Beryl would be devastating for a sector that is considered the engine of the economy.

“We just can’t afford another hit,” he repeated. “Our members are already trying to recover from COVID. We already have debt to service and we don’t want to hear about another loan that we have to take [in the event we’re impacted by the hurricane].”

The SBAJ president noted that small businesses contribute significantly to the economy, employing thousands. “In terms of the government’s coffers, small businesses are over 97 percent compliant with their taxes,” he said. He noted that while bigger companies may have a higher number, the compliance rate among small businesses was high.

For the JMEA president’s particular business, Lubricating Specialties Company Jamaica Limited, Thwaites said, “Our plan is, unless anything changes, we’ll be closed on Wednesday and assess for a reopening on Thursday depending on where the system is and how it impacted us.”

Thwaites noted that the JMEA was not only concerned about the potential impact on businesses but also on their employees. “We’re making sure they get the time to return home to make the preparations they need to make as well. So, it’s not just about how it impacts us and our customers, but how it impacts our employees as well.”

Hurricane Beryl, which impacted several islands in the eastern Caribbean earlier on Monday, including Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines, is expected to impact Jamaica on Wednesday. Despite the possibility of Hurricane Beryl weakening to a category two system while passing south of Jamaica, it is still expected to remain a powerful system with extremely dangerous winds that could cause extensive damage.

The damage could be particularly devastating along the island’s south coast.