Although Caribbean Cement Company Limited and, by extension, the construction industry are deemed essential industries, the recent lockdown measures have slowed distribution of cement across the country.
Even as other segments of the economy face a slow recovery due to the uncertainty of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the construction sector has been recording consistent double-digit growth with output in the second quarter jumping by 18.3 per cent. This has been supported by numerous real estate developments and infrastructure projects by developers and investors who are capitalising on the construction boom.
The three-day lockdown implemented by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in recent weeks has impacted the distribution of cement to various distributors and customers needing the critical product, according to Yago Castro, general manager of Carib Cement.
In a recent interview with Caribbean Business Report, he noted that the storage warehouses were full as the no-movement days affected when customers purchase cement. However, this hasn’t impacted the demand for the product as the company is still producing higher quantities than the comparative 2020 period, with inventory in the warehouses flying off the shelves quickly once movement resumes.
As the country continues to combat the pandemic, Carib Cement has played their own role in assisting staff to get vaccinated from the deadly virus that has taken more than 1,500 lives locally. To this end, the company has been educating staff and collaborating with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica to secure vaccines to inoculate its team.
“We’re giving our people a lot of information and organising different calls with our company doctor to educate staff. If you have any doubts, you can call him [doctor] and he’d advise you. We’re promoting vaccinations at every level as we believe this is the real solution to our problems. We can’t oblige our people to take the vaccine as it’s a personal decision. We’re providing information and facilitating the vaccination this weekend. We’re getting buses, bringing them to the centres and getting them vaccinated. Above 35 per cent of our workforce is already vaccinated,“ stated Castro who is also vaccinated.
Carib Cement is currently providing free antigen tests for staff which complements their 52 safety protocols implemented to contain any potential spread. This has been critical for the company to prevent any serious disruptions to its general operations.
With more than 17,000 Jamaican shareholders, Carib Cement has taken concrete steps to start returning capital to shareholders. With no dividend payment in 16 years, Carib Cement’s board created a committee to discuss the formation of a dividend policy that will be approved at the company’s next annual general meeting.
“We are obsessed with creating value for our shareholders. We’re always looking at how we can maximise their [Jamaican shareholders] investment in the company. That might be through investments to improve the long-term viability of the company. It’s a step in the right direction in creating a dividend policy,” Castro said.
Apart from the expansion of its plant at Rockfort, Carib Cement is still exploring the concrete roads as one of its numerous pipeline projects. Although concrete roads are said to cost more during the construction phase, an analysis by Perrin Construction Inc stated how concrete roads can last on average 20 – 40 years, which is more than double that of asphalt.
“Concrete roads is an interesting solution for the country. We’ve been doing small projects across the island. I like the idea of introducing this to the farming sector as more farm roads can be upgraded with cement-based solutions which can include aggregates,” Castro said.
Despite not being able to fully discuss the funding for the expansion plans, Castro did point out the positive outlook for Jamaica especially surrounding Cemex’s vision for Jamaica in the Caribbean region. Cemex is the ultimate parent company of Carib Cement and operates in more than 50 countries and five continents.
“The US$30-million investment represents how the country is being observed from the outside. We’re seeing a good environment to do business, the economy is growing and it’s a place where there’s security to do investments. The fact that Cemex is devoting such a large investment in the expansion of the plant speaks volumes. Jamaica is a small country and an investment of this size is very relevant. You cannot make a comparison with an investment in say the Dominican Republic or Columbia which are much bigger countries. The country is gaining traction and it’s being perceived as a more secure environment to do business in,” Castro stated.