Interview with Len Jackson:

Read our article in the Cayman Financial Review Magazine, eversion 

Small businesses need support

Small businesses comprise more than half of the total Chamber of Commerce membership and they provide essential jobs that keep the local workforce employed and introduce many new and innovative products and services to the marketplace each year.

The Chamber of Commerce is proud to represent this sector and has placed their concerns at the centre of the public policy agenda. President David Kirkaldy appointed Chamber Secretary Len Jackson to lead a newly established Small Business Committee in January. The SBC is an advisory committee to the Council. It meets monthly and developed and released a membership survey in February to confirm the needs and concerns of small businesses in the membership.

The SBC advises Chamber leaders on the types of membership services that will assist the sector and provides a small business perspective to guide the Council in their decisions about public policy and economic development.

The committee is working on the development of a Small Business Advocacy Agenda, which lists the top five areas that the Council will advocate on behalf of this sector during meetings and public discussions with the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development and the Department of Commerce and Investment.

The goals and objectives of the SBC are: 

  • To gather input about the needs and concerns of member small businesses so that the Chamber of Commerce can make informed decisions about policies, regulations, and membership services;
  • To develop for consideration and approval by the Chamber Council a Small Business Advocacy Agenda which confirms the top five issues that matter most to members that are classified as small businesses (businesses that employ 10 workers or fewer);
  • To better represent the needs and concerns of the Chamber’s small businesses and to motivate greater involvement from this important membership sector;
  • To develop regular channels of communication between the Small Business Committee, the Chamber Council, Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development and the DCI;
  • To assist with the recruitment of small businesses as Chamber members;
  • To provide information and recommend alternatives in terms of policies, procedures, and services that could better serve the small business community.

Len understands the unique needs of small business owners. In 1996, he sold his cellular phone company in Chicago, Illinois and retired to the Cayman Islands. In 2002, he became a naturalised citizen and obtained Caymanian Status. At present he owns a small IT company, PC-Doctor, providing local IT services and has been a member of the Chamber since 2004.

Len has always been an entrepreneur. He started his first new business in the late 1960s and has been doing it ever since. In 1983 when cellular phone service first started in the United States Len became an agent in the Chicago area.

Throughout the next 12 years he built a one-man business into a 350 person operation with 53 retail stores throughout 12 states. In late 1994, Merrill Lynch nominated Len for Chicago’s Small Business Person of the Year Award.

In this quarter’s CHAMBER interview, Len responds to questions about the newly established Chamber SBC and shares his views about the challenging plight of Cayman’s small business owner.

Q: What prompted you to get involved in the work of the Chamber of Commerce and the SBC in particular?

Len: When I started my little business here in 2002 I spent a lot of time trying to sort through all the rules and regulations that were required to open a business. Do I incorporate? What type of Trade and Business License do I need?

If I want to hire someone, what benefits do I have to provide? Does that person have to have a work permit? If so, how long would that take and what type of permit classification would they fall under? And that was just some of the things I needed to find out about. I wondered how someone with an entrepreneurial spirit and a good idea, but with no business background could ever get started.

Now I’m not saying that the answers are not out there. I’m saying if you don’t know the questions to ask, it makes it difficult to get the answers or start a small business here. Or maybe I should say a legal business here.

I joined the Chamber of Commerce as it was the ideal organisation to provide the information that was needed to start a business as well as it gave you the ability to network with other business people.

The reason for accepting the appointment to chair the SBC was because I have built and run small businesses all my life as well as worked with different rules, laws, and regulations in different states, cities, and towns. I also felt the Chamber needed a better understanding of what things young Caymanians with entrepreneurial spirits need to get started on the right foot.

Q:What are the top five issues facing small businesses today and what is the committee’s strategy to address them?

Len: Our SBC has just been started and I’ve only had two meeting, one to meet with our new committee and develop a small business survey for Chamber member businesses with less than 10 workers. At the second meeting, we reviewed the responses and to set up our next meeting and invite a few people to provide some insight and input. In our first survey response our small business members rated work permit fees as their number one issue, followed by unlicensed businesses, slow government response time in providing answers, import duty fees and debt collection.

At our next meeting we will receive some input on how government views one or two of these survey questions and the best way to move forward.

Q: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge for a young Caymanian starting a business today?

Len: The three biggest challenges facing a legal resident starting a business today is to know what the rules are to set up a business, how to market that business and of course having the funding to get it up and running.

Q: What does the SBC hope to achieve by the end of this year?

Len: I hope that the SBC will be able to get the support from government and the public to acknowledge how important it is for everyone to play by the rules.

Acknowledge everyone in business that’s required to have a license have one.

Be able to call or email Trade and Business to verify a business is licensed and that license is current.

Review and adjust work permit fees and descriptions.

Be able to get a five day work permit on-line for a small fee via credit card.

Be able to get a lower fee on duty for licensed businesses

Obtain government support by way of percentage discount on fee to start up and other small businesses with five or fewer people.

Q: Why should a small business join the Chamber of Commerce?

Len: If I were a small business or young Caymanian entrepreneur starting out today the first thing I would do is join the Chamber and use all the support and training they have to offer. Also, it would give me the opportunity to network with the small business members and learn from their experiences. As they say, no person is an island; no one thrives when isolated from others.