On Wednesday evening the chairman of NCB, Michael Lee Chin, made a memorable return to his hometown of Port Antonio where he unveiled the opening of an NCB branch located on West Street, Port Antonio.
Lee Chin renovated the old courthouse, which was built 103 years ago and now houses the Port Antonio branch of NCB. This exercise came in at a cost of J$130 million with the National Heritage Trust (NHT) playing a considerable role in the endeavour.
The event was a civic affair with many locals watching the ceremony, which was charaterised by pageantry. It was a poignant moment when the local boy-made-good-a-foreign was acknowledged as making a significant contribution to the community and his country.
Lee Chin recalled that as a ten-year-old boy in 1961, he often looked out to the sea from Titchfield Hill and wondered how he could own the supermarket in which his parents worked. Forty-five years later, he is the only billionaire to hail from Port Antonio building one of the largest mutual fund companies and acquiring Jamaica’s largest indigenous commercial bank, NCB. His business interests have also expanded into tourism, telecommunications and the media.
Standing at the footsteps of the old courthouse and addressing the crowd as the sun began its slow decent, Lee Chin embodied how education and hard work can spell success for his fellow Port Antonians – that the dream is not impossible, and that returning home and making a significant contribution was both edifying and fulfilling.
He once again reiterated that it was important that foreign companies should not simply repatriate profits abroad but should plow them back into developing Jamaica. He said that not one dollar of profit from NCB is repatriated to AIC in Canada, adding that he wanted to play a role in the development of both his hometown and all of Jamaica.
Lee Chin drew the analogy of sand dredgers coming from a broad and taking the sand from Port Antonio beaches back to their countries overseas. He pointed out that if that continues there would be no more beaches for locals to enjoy.
Lee Chin is perhaps the only Caribbean tycoon to make a concerted effort to revitalise his hometown and make significant investments there that will create jobs and spur growth. He subscribes to the aphorism, doing well, by doing good. His endeavours take on a certain piquancy bearing in mind the Johnny-come-latelys who have crashed and burned with their schemes, without making any significant contribution to the country.
Lee Chin’s Port Antonio projects include, the renovation of the Trident Hotel at a cost of US$20 million; significant work on the Blue Lagoon property at an estimated cost of US$10 million; the housing of the Port Antonio branch of NCB in the old court building, J$130 million and the construction of a state-of-the-art new courthouse building, which should come in at around US$8 million. Working with the Port Authority on the entire east Harbour including Navy Island and the northwestern tip of Titchfield Hill (which was established in 1723) to bring commercial and residential opportunities at an estimated cost of US$200 million. To date Lee Chin’s ventures has employed 550 people and on completion with provide many opportunities for the people of Port Antonio.
It must be borne in mind that Port Antonio has not seen any significant development since 1939. When the likes of Errol Flynn came to town, they only built residences for themselves with no effort made to leave infrastructure behind. Nearly 70 years later, Lee Chin has led the charge for the revitalisation of this verdant part of Jamaica, and others have followed suit. He did so when the roads remained in serious disrepair and no airport existed. Those may have been major impediments to any developer, but he pressed ahead with a vision of Port Antonio etched in his mind. Port Antonio may well become a high-end tourist destination and the must-go- place to visit in Jamaica. Much of that will be due to the irrepressible Michael Lee Chin, the boy from Titchfield.