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T&T’s high tech dreams on park?

Published: 
Thursday, October 11, 2012

 

High Tech Dreams
 
In the past decade hopes started emerging that the technopolis being built in T&T would place the country well on the way to achieving economic diversification.
 
Tamana InTech Park (TIP) is situated on 1,100 acres of land in Wallerfield, East of Trinidad and Tobago and is the culmination of years of planning and hundreds of millions of tax payers’ dollars in consulting and research. 
 
According to e-Teck’s Chairman, Brian Frontin, Tamana InTech Park is “a holistically developed Special Economic Zone for knowledge based industries and has been identified by the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development and the Economic Development Board (EMBD) as a key growth pole to aid in the economic diversification process.”
 
The principal purpose of Tamana InTech Park was to lay a foundation for a new era of economic development in Trinidad and Tobago based on the establishment of technology intensive, knowledge-driven industries in the non-oil and gas sectors.
 
The premise for the Park, was to have the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) be the collaborative and planning hub of the intended activities, churning out trained local human resources for the proposed park tenants, a mix of local companies and high technology international manufacturers, all sharing the same industry compatible infrastructural and support requirements provided with a Trinidad and Tobago flavour. 
 
The intended aims of this initiative were to create competency and spark economic activity in this globally relevant industry with regard to fulfilling the promises of T&T’s ever elusive diversification intentions.
 
 
Tamana Present and Future
 
The original budget for Tamana’s completion was $1.159 billion and it was scheduled to come on stream by the end of 2010 for ready-to-lease tenants and the third quarter 2010 for build-to-suit tenants.
 
Spending, however, was stopped at $1.079 billion as at September 30, 2012 and new decisions made, bringing about a delay in tenanting, which is now scheduled for late 2013. This delay also brought a change by the new management of e-Teck to focus only on the 21 build-to-suit lots with no projected timeline for ready to lease tenants.
 
The more than $1 billion cost so far was for provisioning of electricity supply infrastructure (working sub-station & underground electricity supply including Trinidad and Tobago’s first 66 KV power line), potable water supply infrastructure, ICT infrastructure, waste water treatment ponds and civil works. All of these utilities are subterranean. 
 
Frontin said: “Construction is completed for the newly devised Phase 1 of the Park’s development with 21 lots available for build-to-suit tenants.” 
 
But after more than four years, only three tenants are still finalizing their lease agreements; two for land-lots and one for the Flagship Building. Frontin added: “InvesTT’s investor sourcing team still has an active pipeline with approximately ten other companies who have displayed strong interest in locating at the park.”
 
Last year, $88 million was spent on the Tamana according to the 2012 PSIP, which stated: "The main investment project continued to be the construction of the Wallerfield Industrial and Technology Park (Tamana InTech Park) which includes the eTeck flagship building. The project also involves site infrastructure and related utilities, structured cabling, the Alutech Research and Development Facility, Fibre Optic Infrastructure and the Park's Broadband Network." 
 
The State Enterprises Investment Programme also states that a pipeline, intended to supply gas to light manufacturers, was shelved.
 
Asked to account for the state of Tamana InTech Park after ten years, the expenditure of a billion dollars and so few prospective tenants, Frontin said: “The seeming ‘lull’ in construction of the park, is again, based on the new demand-driven approach to the Park’s further build-out which has been in effect since early 2011.” 
 
He added: “The technology park’s first tenants will be operational in the third quarter of 2013.” This “demand-driven approach” happened in 2010 after a change in e-Teck leadership and has resulted in the delay.
 
InvesTT is not responsible for the operationalization of UTT. Nevertheless, the Tamana Park website still states that UTT will provide the necessary synergy between industries and academia in the areas of industry sponsored research and managing innovations and intellectual property. While UTT maintains their campus development is consistent with the technology-focused, research-driven and knowledge-based strategy for the Park, is the current level of planning and collaboration enough to foster success of such an ambitious undertaking by any country? 
 
In an interview with the Guardian in April 2012, UTT Chairman Curtis Manchoon said as the university developed, eTecK with the industrial park was supposed to attract tenants to develop high-tech businesses. So the research part of UTT would have fed into that. Manchoon admitted that the advent of UWI’s Debe campus has caused them “ to rethink the whole concept of what we (will) do with that building in Tamana”
 
So what has resulted in the delay of the much touted teck park ?
 
Frontin ascribes the delay to the following: “In 2010, there was a serious re-think of the capital development & financing model for the park. The demand simply was not there and by early 2011 there was a deliberate move away from the previous ‘build and they will come’ development model; a front loaded, capital intensive approach which cannot be sustained in our current economic circumstances.” 
 
Simply, eTech management claim they could not continue to pump money into an investment model which yielded no returns. 
 
Despite the apparent enthusiasm from e-Teck, has the Tamana initiative been subsequently frozen in time during the two year tenure of the present People’s Partnership administration?
 
That was the view espoused by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley during his budget contribution” It might have been that a different approach would have been taken with respect to saving and advancing the prospects of the Tamana e-Teck Park. A victim of bad-mind, bad-mouth, closure and abandonment, under the UNC, before it can surface as a new idea to solve the intractable diversification problem.”
 
Was it poor leadership, or a lack of experience and understanding of the complex factors involved in such a mammoth undertaking that has as yet yielded no results? The delay is causing supporters of the plan to pause expectantly, with bated breath, for any revelation of continuation of this much anticipated turning point, as perceived by some, in Trinidad and Tobago’s economic history.
 
 
Success Criteria
 
Technology parks are, according to researchers, property developments which aim to support research based commercial activity. Universities and other Tertiary education institutions are seen as repositories of scientific expertise, research, and advanced technologies. The technology park is conceived as a mechanism by which academic researchers might commercialize their outputs, or where firms might locate in order to access academic expertise and research results. 
 
The Association of University Research Parks (AURP), a non-profit association made up of university-affiliated research parks, defines university research and science parks as a property-based venture, which has certain characteristics, of which include:
 
• Master planned property and buildings designed primarily for private/public research and development facilities, high technology and science based companies, and support services.
 
• A contractual, formal or operational relationship with one or more science/research institutions of higher education.
 
• A role in promoting the university's research and development through industry partnerships, assisting in the growth of new ventures and promoting economic development
 
• A role in aiding the transfer of technology and business skills between university and industry teams 
 
• A role in promoting technology-led economic development for the community or region.
 
 
The four year delay and strategic changes to T&T’s first attempt at this phenomenon has prompted the following questions; what is needed to provide success of such a high risk, high innovation approach? Do we understand these criteria? Or are we on track to produce just another Billion dollar failure?
 
According to the E-teck chairman , “One tenant, from the ICT sector, is involved in data storage, another tenant from the Clean Technology sector is involved in energy efficiency projects and the third firm is involved in the provision of Higher Education in the medical services field.” 
 
Are these the companies we hoped to attract? Can these types of company’s help lay the foundation for building of a local high tech industry in adhering with our decades old diversification agenda?
 
Just last month a new business incubator was opened at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park, Funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Mississippi Development Authority. The new 20,000-square-foot building, which will also house operations for silicon carbide manufacturer II-VI Inc., was booked up long ago and currently has 11 tenants, a mix of faculty, student and community start-ups, which are creating 100 new jobs. With initiatives like these popping up all over the world, is T&T’s constant delay in operationalizing Tamana hurting our ability to compete in a shrinking global landscape?

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