BPO math: US$50-m office build-out could create 10,000 jobs

Yoni Epstein (left), chairman of the Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ), shakes hands with Harold Arzu, operation specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) after signing a US$500,000- grant agreement. (PHOTO: GARFIELD ROBINSON)

FOR US$900,000 ($100.8 million), a new 200-seat call centre incubator will be built in the Montego Bay free zone.

Working round the clock, the facility, partly funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), can create 600 new jobs for the local business process outsourcing (BPO) sector.

That may seem a tiny blip when compared to the 14,000 persons currently employed by the sector, but the potential US$15 million it can generate for the local economy is nothing to scoff at.

BPO operators in Jamaica now pull in upwards of US$350 million annually, and that figure is expected to increase by 50 per cent, along with an additional 7,000 new jobs, should efforts focused on growing the sector are successful, according to Yoni Epstein.

The chairman of the Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) believes the country is emerging as a regional hub for the provision of BPO services largely “through well-developed and reliable infrastructure, a highly literate workforce, excellent telecommunication facilities, competitive labour costs and near=shore advantage”.

He figures the sector can grow to employ as many as 45,000 professional, before it becomes saturated.

But getting there will need a lot more office space — at least 620,000 square feet more, in fact.

The Barnett Technology Park in Montego Bay is already earmarked for 800,000 square foot. Construction on a 50,000-square feet facility there commenced in January, and is expected to be completed at a cost of US$8.5 million by the end of 2014.

Using the current industry standard in Jamaica of 60-70 square feet per seat, when restroom facilities and lunch areas are included in the office space, that should translate to a minimum of 720 seats, or over 2,100 jobs over three shifts.

The new facility is also cheaper to build than the US$25 million that was spent on a 100,000 square-foot facility for Vistaprint at the tech park three years ago.

Even at the higher rate, it would cost US$50 million to create the space needed for an additional 10,000 jobs in the sector.

What’s more, financing is available.

Having already partly financed the Barnett Technology Park expansion, the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) is seeking an additional US$20 million from the PetroCaribe Development Fund to finance the construction of more space for the BPO sector.

The agency will lend up to US$5 million per project — representing a maximum of 70 per cent of total costs — with an interest rate of 4.5 per cent per annum on the reducing balance.