A Basic Strategy for Promoting SJR Community Development

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Background

1 This Press submission attempts to respond to the Daily Observer’s question: Who will rebuild Fortville – 21 April 2016 edition. For a start, as a premise for addressing the question under reference, it is important to describe the St John River Community’s location – Fortsville happens to be one of the five settlements.

2 The St John River City (otherwise known as the St John River Community) is an 8-square mile political entity encompassing the main settlements of Harrisville, Fortville, Hartford, Beulah and Bexley. The City was incorporated by Legislative Act dated 29 January1920. The Forte family from Eufuala (Alabama) led by Wiley Forte was the first to settle at Fortsville circa 1870; thus the derivation of its name. Joined later by a number of others, a compilation of some seventy-seven families which settled in the Community over the years was produced recently.

3 Travelling by car from Monrovia via Roberts International Airport (RIA), the Community is located seventy-four miles south (90 minutes’ driving time), and is the natural suburb of Buchanan – Bassa County’s Administrative HQ. Conveniently, the Diahanblah-Gberzohn (aka Monrovia-Buchanan Highway) which was inaugurated on 15 July 2013 by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, runs via RIA and passes directly through the Community. From RIA to the Community is 40 minutes’ driving time at normal cruising speed; from Harbel Supermarket, 35 minutes! Driving time between the Community and Buchanan is 15 minutes only!

Endevors to sustain the Community through export-import trading
4 Oral history reveals that from the mid-1920s thru mid-1960s, the Community hosted a mix of Liberian and foreign traders – the latter hailing mostly from Germany, Ireland, Holland and Lebanon. Growing out of that integrated presence, a thriving commercial enterprise developed with focus on import-export trading. However, with the passage of time, a steep decline in foreign demands for domestic commodities generated corresponding decline in returns on domestic productions. The outcome naturally undermined domestic purchasing power as erstwhile livelihoods were abandoned unwittingly. Moreover, statistics showed that pursuit of job-opportunities, better living standards, intermediate and higher education gave rise to gradual demographic shifts towards Monrovia and other communities. It implies that over the years, the lack of sustainable economic activities in the Community – not uncommon in other parts of the country – set the stage for stratified progressive decline. Worse still, as a consequence of the devastating civil conflict that prevailed throughout Liberia, the Community was entirely decimated. It goes without saying that many dwellers lost their lives; those who survived lost their means of basic subsistence and were therefore constrained to seek refuge elsewhere within the country or abroad.

5 The Community’s Comparative Advantages
● Bounded on the north, west and south by the Mechlin River, and on the east by the St John River, there is no shortage of water. Land is available for a broad range of construction purposes; and for small and medium-scale agri-businesses.
● As a consequence of the devastation inflicted during the civil conflict, the community is very sparsely populated, environmentally unspoiled and above all, crime-free! The locality being quiet, and situated in reasonable proximity to Monrovia and Buchanan, it is undeniably considered as highly suitable for all forms of corporate needs.
● It is the gateway to Buchanan – the County’s Administrative HQ; the Port of Buchanan is the second largest in the country.
● A trainable workforce – drawn primarily from amongst erstwhile dwellers who fled to Buchanan and
Monrovia during the war – could be mobilized within a reasonably short time-span.
● Hydro-power (http://canmetenergy.nrcan.gc.ca/renewables/2449) as a potential source of
uninterrupted renewable electricity supply. Based on Firestone’s (Harbel) experience with its mini hydro electricity facility, the Community enjoys an outstanding comparative advantage in this context, inasmuch as the St John River is endowed with a number of natural water falls, two of which (one of 10 MW potential output; the other with 18 MW) have been identified within reasonable access. Collectively, these could provide power for Buchanan and potential businesses directed to the Community. Regarding technology, information gathered through research reveals that Firestone installed its mini hydro electricity facility (engineered on the diversion dam principle) in January 1943 and operates effectively seventy-three years later. The installation comprises an 1100-foot diversion arm and a 500-foot spillway, supported by the requisite machinery and powerhouse. An alternative hydropower generation technology is Hydro Volts (http://hydrovolts.com/ ). It is noteworthy that the diversion dam principle adopted has no adverse environmental impact such as the need to relocate communities or gather a huge volume of water as traditionally required. Also, established economic analysis supports the view that the installation costs of both diversion-dam and Hydro Volts mechanisms are comparatively highly economical, and operate on very low maintenance costs as well; are environmentally-friendly and therefore cost-effective.

It is envisaged that installation of either or both technologies – diversion-dam or Hydro Volts – would
attract a broad range of industries and associated enterprises to the Community.
● Location of strategic & economic installations;
● Production of burnt clay-bricks and associated roofing-tiles;
● Bottling of spring water and production of associated beverages;
● Manufacture of household & office furniture; pleasure /fishing boats;
● in a distinctively safe and quiet environmental setting: construction of executive residential compounds, including corporate offices is envisaged;
● golf course; tennis court; Olympic-size swimming pool; corporate headquarters; hospitality industries: hotel/bar/restaurant/; manufacturing base; petrol-filling station, warehousing/cold-storage, commodity-purchasing agency, etc;
● Inland waterways fishing along the St John and Mechlin Rivers;
● Internet Café; Travel Agency; Bank Branch; Post Office, etc.
● Others – to be determined
Debunking an unconventional notion on production & marketing
6 In some developing societies, occasionally an unconventional notion on production, marketing, distribution and consumption comes into focus. The controversial view is that unless goods, services and commodities produced in a certain location can be marketed, availed of and consumed locally, the enterprises concerned are not viable. This outlook is entirely baseless and stands contrary to conventional economic wisdom which holds that goods and commodities could be produced, and services organized, in one location within a country and marketed successfully elsewhere within that country in response to consumers’ demands. Viability, accordingly, is governed exclusively by the fundamental norms of comparative advantages in terms of economic geography. This firmly implies that with the Monrovia-Buchanan highway in place and passing thru the SJR Community, commodities, consumer goods (e.g., Coca Cola and similar industries) and services produced in the Community could be marketed and distributed successfully in Buchanan, Monrovia and elsewhere within Liberia or even exported. Coincidentally, proponents of the unconventional view on production and distribution also hold an associated notion – although not widely expressed – that the capital city of a country represents a microcosm of that country. This perspective is extremely narrow to gain acceptance and support of policy and law-makers.

Diversifying the Location of Industries and Economic Activities
7 Within the framework of Economic Geography, an industrial location policy was introduced in Europe during the late 18th century. Proponents concluded that regions had to be endowed with defined comparative economic advantages. The indicators were, by large measure, identified as: proximity to electricity or renewal potentials for its production; water; trainable workforce; material resources; transport and communication; accessibility to markets and viable opportunities for expansion. During the period leading up to that far-reaching innovative thought, experience had shown that by concentrating industries in or around major cities only, over-congestion in demographic terms was strongly felt. Stifling and undermining nation-wide economic expansion emerged as unintended consequences.

8 The model policy described herein focuses on diversifying the location of industries and economic activities where feasible within a country. It has been recognized and applied as an effective industrial development strategy across the globe. In practical terms, it particularly promotes internal economic expansion which effectively fosters job-creation as the central engine that drives and sustains prosperity and well-being!

Way forward
9 Effectively, the St John River Community is deemed an ideal destination of choice for the location of industrial enterprises and economic installations, including residential compounds and corporate offices in a safe & secure environment. Accordingly, investors are hereby kindly invited for consultations on the way forward.

10 As a pilot initiative, it is strongly felt that by taking up corporate residencies in the Community, the Community would experience an appreciable measure of development. It is envisaged that the successful outcome would be replicated elsewhere, as a premise for expanding national development.

The writer, Dr Gustav Barnard – a Liberian from Fortsville, Grand Bassa County – is former senior official (retired) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), London. Although resident in England, he is in regular contacts with the St John River Community, including occasional visits. He may be reached at [email protected]; MagicJack (Direct dialing from stateside: 202 280 7692);

Fortsville, Grand Bassa (Liberia) –14 May 2016

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