A BPO backwater or a diamond in the dense forest? A quick pop-quiz for readers of Nearshore Americas: What country in the Nearshore outsourcing market (defined by all of the Western Hemisphere) is equipped with state-of-art telecom fiber rings, employs over 3,000 associates in export oriented call center and BPO operations, pays workers in these industries about $220 US a month and whose official language is English?
No it’s not Belize. Or Jamaica. What’s your guess?
Ok, time’s up.The winner is Guyana.
The above list of attributes may come as a bit of a surprise for many close-watchers of the offshore professional business industries of the CALA region. Guyana has traditionally been seen as too small (just under 1 million citizens); too remote (about 80-plus percent of the country’s land mass is dense forest) or just too ‘off the radar’ to be considered a viable destination for the demands of 21st century interconnection and professional grade customer support.
One simple way to look at it – Office Depot – the large retail office supplier in the United States is apparently a big believer in Guyana, sending work to Georgetown, the capital, via its relationship with Clear Connect, which reportedly employs close to 250 agents. Office Depot officials offered up ‘rave reviews’ of the firm’s four year commitment to Guyana, according to local press reports. The largest operator in the country is Qualfon, with about 1,800 agents. There are at least six other players providing customer service, medical transcription services and other BPO-activities.
“We’re really looking at expansion of this industry over the next several years,” says Geoffrey Da Silva, the chief executive officer at Go-Invest, the government’s investment promotion agency. “Our incentives are as competitive as anywhere else.” The literacy rate in Guyana is 99% and the country is regarded as having a solid education system.
“I feel the BPO centers have a revolutionary impact on our young people,” says Da Silva, citing the fact that the call centers have provided an environment which is conducive to development of professional work habits.
Without identifying the firm by name, Da Silva said a “top ten” international call center player is quietly ramping up a 600-seat operation in Guyana. Cross off Teleperformance as one of the possible entrants to Guyana. Da Silva said the firm investigated Guyana several years ago but declined to pursue investment, citing infrastructure deficiencies.
Personal safety and security: The US State Department describes Guyana as a place that has “serious” crime issues. But a caveat – we have seen on numerous occasions that the State Department uses vague terms and outdated statistics to describe conditions in Latin America/ Caribbean countries, so its advisable to seek out professional connections to get more accurate assessments.
On ICT and telecom infrastructure: Guyana had been in the proverbial stone age with ICT infrastructure until about ten years ago when the local telecom incumbent – Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) – put some serious investment into driving forward telecom services by burying fiber throughout Georgetown, which now connects to two major submarine cables. (A third coming from Brazil is planned within the next 18 months.) But clearly one major drawback and concern any new investor should have about Guyana is this monopoly player still rules the fixed line networks within the country. Reports have circulated about the unreasonably high cost of bandwidth. Da Silva reports that during 2011 local political bodies will be seriously examine the liberalization of the ICT market, thereby opening the sector up to competition.
Labor and wage: It appears Guyana has a fairly pro-business stance, permitting workers to fill graveyard shifts and work weekends without complications. There are no 13-month payment requirements, and average monthly wage is about $220.
Incentives: Tax holiday for all BPO/ call center operators in perpetuity. In order to stimulate industrial development, the government is selling land at ‘very low rates’, according to Da Silva. He adds the government is in active talks with local industry leaders to develop government-assisted training programs.
Real estate: Da Silva says candidly that ‘if you’re looking for 7,000 or 8,000 square foot spaces, you won’t find them easily here.” Suitable office space for smaller settings can be secured for $2 or less a square foot.
Overall, it appears Guyana has a pretty strong case for niche-oriented offshore professional players. Da Silva projects the sector will support as many as 12,000 jobs over the next several years. And – like so many other similarity-sized emerging offshore markets in CALA – scalability is going to be one of the chief targets for analysis and scrutiny in the medium to long term.
“Guyana is now known in a more positive light,” says Da Silva.