Massive investments stream into province but these are yet to improve business confidence levels in the province
Massive investments into the Eastern Cape economy this year seem to fly in the face of Grant Thornton’s international business report which states that the province’s business owners’ optimism levels are the lowest of all provinces for 2011.
For example, Mercedes-Benz announced that it will be manufacturing in East London for the next 10 years. This follows its announcement late last year that it is to invest R1 billion in the East London plant where it will manufacture the next generation C-Class. Then there is General Motors South Africa which says it is investing R530 million this year as it chases 50,000 unit production target.
On the renewable energy front, Sasol has also launched an R8 million integrated energy centre in Qunu. And there is more. Port Elizabeth has been named one of South Africa’s most affordable cities in the country. The Eastern Cape has higher home ownership figures, with 71% of households having fully paid off their homes. The province also has one of the highest proportions of SMMEs to population.
Surely all these stories point to a province at work, and in business! Catalytic investments have a knock-on economic effect in so far as creating new business for emerging entrepreneurs and suppliers. And these also help instill business confidence.
The point is not to discredit the findings from a respected business advisor on optimism. Certainly there are structural problems which are endemic to the whole of South Africa which make it difficult to do business and encourage entrepreneurship. But what accounts for the lowest business confidence levels for a province that is the fourth largest contributor to GDP?
What is it about Brand Eastern Cape that does not inspire confidence amongst business people as an ideal place to do business? Poor perceptions about the province may go to explain the low business confidence amongst business owners in the Eastern Cape. One of the reasons that Brand Eastern Cape carries negative connotations is the collective failure by the private and public sectors to communicate our successes to the rest of the country and the world.
Much of the media coverage that this province commands is so heavily biased towards negative reports that are largely dominated by political theatre, crime and socio-economic challenges. All these reports paint a picture of a province in turmoil – a province in political and economic instability.
I am reliably told that the big men with the sizeable wallets in the glass corner offices the world over frown upon such perceived instability. And so quite regularly we send off our finest brains on expeditions (we are told they are missions) around the globe to secure an audience with these big men, when in fact they should be coming to us begging for a piece of land to set up shop in this province that hold so much promise. And then after our fine men have boarded their flights back home, the men in the glass offices log onto the internet and are confronted by reports of a province in crisis.
This province has failed dismally to talk about the inroads it is making in business. By the amount of negative reports about the province, one would think there is very little by means of business activity. You would be forgiven for expressing such ignorance if you took a drive to the East London beachfront on a Monday morning. Last year a Business Day journalist expressed shock and dismay to me on seeing a sizeable number of what he perceived as senior executives who leisure at our beaches during business hours: “No wonder this province is such a mess. Senior managers and so-called BEE businessman loiter around when they should be doing business,” he lamented.
Surely this is not the sum total of the province that we live in. Communicators should shoulder some of the blame for such poor perceptions about the province. We should begin to communicate a province that is at work. We need to vigorously communicate a province that is in business. The Eastern Cape media also needs to come to the party. While we should continue to report about the myriad of challenges we face as a province, we should build a Brand Eastern Cape that we can sell to the rest of the country and the world as an ideal business destination. Let no one fool you, we are a province in business.