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The Evolution Of Manufacturing In Barbados
Published on February 10, 2010 by BMEX

During the 17th until the early 20th Century most economic activity was centered around agriculture particularly sugar production so it came as no surprise that most manufacturing that would have taken place during that time was also based on this particular crop production.

From as early as 1637 one witnessed the distillation of Barbadian rum which was done on small scale distilleries around the island. Initially, such distillation was not systematic but with the official opening of Mount Gay in 1703, rum production became organized and regular.

As the 20th Century approached and early into this century many of the manufacturing businesses as we know them today opened their doors. It was at this point that we saw the expansion of manufacturing occurring that was not based solely on agriculture… this marked a shift in manufacturing within Barbados. These businesses being spoken about included:

  • Cole’s Printery (1860)
  • The West Indies Rum Distilleries (1893)
  • BICO Ltd (1901)
  • Purity Bakeries (1910)
  • West India Biscuit Company (1910)
  • Zephrin’s Bakeries (1923)
  • R.L. Seale and Company (1926)
  • Roberts Manufacturing (1944)
1950’s

During the 1950’s the Barbadian manufacturing sector continued to grow with the creation of:

  • Ecaf Products (1955)
  • TMR (1958)
  • Bank Breweries (1958)

In addition, with the expansion of the then Seawell International Airport (now Grantley Adams) there began an influx of tourists to the island. Craft persons were subsequently given a greater opportunity to sell their hand-made products which resulted in the early formation of a clearly defined handicraft sector. (The first basketry workshop was consequently established in Edgehill, St.Thomas).

1960’s

The Government of Barbados, under its Development Plan of 1965-1968, sought the establishment of domestic industries that would have been willing and able to export extra-regionally and intra-regionally specifically to the Eastern Caribbean region. [Additionally, it is worth noting that one of the first Industrial Estates (Grazettes Industrial Estate) had opened its doors to its first clients which included Yankee Garments, Mapp’s Garments and Angelus Furniture in 1961).

Also, under Sir Arthur Lewis’ strategy of “Industrialisation by Invitation” one observed the further expansion of manufacturing within Barbados by large Multinational Companies such as Berger Paints (in 1964), Tansitor Electronics (1969), among others who would all have been drawn to the country by the aggressive campaign which was promoting Barbados as “an ideal location for doing business.”

Other companies that would have been formed in this decade would have included (but not limited to):

  • Carlisle Laboratories in 1961
  • Oran Ltd in 1964
  • Mico Garment Factory in 1965
  • Barbados Dairy Industries in 1966
  • Trowel Plastics in 1966

These companies were formed against the backdrop of a stream of Barbadian-owned companies making their mark on the industrial sector serving as testimony to the favourable economic, infrastructural and legislative climate that prevailed.

1970’s

By this time, the manufacturing sector had been employing some 12,000 persons and was continually growing. Companies such as Solar Dynamics, Moore Paragon, Harris Paints, etc originated within this decade. Furthermore, the policies developed under the theory of “Industrialisation by Invitation” helped in creating a favorable legislative environment for many foreign owned manufacturing companies such as TRW, Corcom, Playtex International, Standard Memories, among others, to come and set up operations within Barbados.

1980’s and Onwards

The 1980’s saw the further expansion of both the service and manufacturing industry. Manufacturing operations in the business of garment and furniture production also increased.

Such expansion signaled the start of the first Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX) from July 1 – 4, 1982 at Terminal Two of the Grantley Adams International Airport. This offered the opportunity for Barbadian manufacturers to show theor exceptional quality to visitors and locals alike, thus gaining an awareness of the wide range of products being produced in the island.

But the 1990’s issued in a new era which brought with it the challenges related to trade liberalization. One, therefore, saw a decrease in the number of persons being employed in the manufacturing sector since many of the manufacturing companies who had set up operations under “Industrialisation by Invitation” had closed such operations and relocated to other markets with cheaper labour costs.

Surveys conducted quite recently showed that by the end of 2007 there were some 358 manufacturing companies employing some 9,317 persons in the industry. These companies could be categorized in the following sub-sectors:

  • Furniture and Wooden Products
  • Electronics
  • Food and Beverages
  • Garments
  • Printing and Publishing
  • Chemicals

As we look towards the future, it can be noted that the manufacturing industry has provided growth, quality, livelihood and Barbadian pride. Through the initiatives of the Brands of Barbados campaign and the innovative pursuits coming out of the BMEX exhibition, our local manufacturers are making their mark along international brands and our island Barbados is better for this.


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