Papua New Guinea’s industrial hub has a lot going for it as it enters the new year, says the quietly confident President of the Lae Chamber of Commerce, John Byrne.
Looking ahead into 2020, we wonder: what will the new year bring? What challenges? What opportunities?
One thing for sure is that, while some things will remain the same, others will change, as change is the only constant in life – and business. Change will occur whether we sit on our hands and wait or go out and drive it.
Looking back at 2019, we hoped and prayed for a positive announcement on Wafi-Golpu; the lack of foreign exchange (forex) was hard for many importers; we had a change of National Government and Prime Minister, and our Reserve Bank opened a currency facility in Lae.
What will 2020 look like for Lae business?
In many ways, it will be business as usual. The forex situation is still tough and many businesses are waiting on a large project announcement. But, here, in Lae, there is a lot more going on: several large food manufacturers are expanding and relocating to our city; the Nadzab Airport upgrade will commence in the second quarter of 2020; our ports, which move over 60 per cent of PNG inwards/outwards goods daily, are gearing for bigger things; and our businesses are adjusting and raring to go.
I recently coined the phrase ‘Are we mine-ready?’, meaning: if Wafi-Golpu gets the green light, or an international investor wants to build a manufacturing base or other, are we ready for the standards and requirements to be able to supply goods and labour locally?
‘PNG has been called the “land of the unexpected”. I like to call Lae the “land of opportunity” because we have it in bucketloads.’
Many companies are not, but several others are training, developing, getting accredited – opportunities abound in the new PNG. This is what our Prime Minister means by ‘take back PNG,’ it is not something to be feared but you have to get involved and ready.
If we have no new mine, no major investment, no new players, we still have an enormous need to feed, educate and improve our people; and jobs can do that. We need all of them, but we can’t just wait. Our people are intelligent and hard-working, many have trained very well within PNG or overseas, returning home to improve the lives of their people and themselves.
Get the word out
A key change for me during 2019 was when I was at an investment conference in Port Moresby. It was all about Moresby – and to be frank, if I were there, I would have done the same – but it hit home.
Lae is the hub of commerce and manufacturing, it has limitless opportunities for quality investors – and we need to tell the world!
Last year, we made our first video on Lae City, PNG, Opportunity, Investment and Growth. It is one of a series of four videos and, as our local MP, John Rosso, says, we are open for business. Our Chamber is looking to hold an Investment Conference midway through the year. Come and see the vast opportunities when the conference is on.
Our highway is undergoing a transformation and the stage 2 of our much-need ‘miles area’ is being rebuilt as I write this. Local streets and roads are in better shape and our Lae City Authority is putting structure back into governance and infrastructure. All of these set Lae up for a solid year, despite the vagaries of markets and overseas issues.
PNG has been called the ‘land of the unexpected’. I like to call Lae the ‘land of opportunity’ because we have it in bucketloads.
(If you are reading this from outside PNG and have never been here, don’t believe all you read: PNG is as safe as any other country and Lae, under our Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, has one of the safest records of all the cities and provinces in the country. Every city in the world has places not to be after certain hours and Lae is no different, but we are not in a war-zone and we are not run over by gangs, as the media sometimes like to portray.)
Am I an optimist? Absolutely. I will die an optimist, but this is countered with a degree of quiet confidence that Lae and PNG are heading in the right direction.
Will we, as a country, make mistakes? Of course we will, but on the street, in businesses and communities, we know we can make things happen and Lae will lead the way. 2020 here we come.
John Byrne is President of the Lae Chamber of Commerce.
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