ICF-THE BAHAMAS & CARIBBEAN - Part 1 Of 4
ICF's are gaining market share not only in North America, but around the world. ICF has made some penetration in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean region presents intriguing possibilities for the ICF industry. The climate-year-round heat and humidity would seem to favor ICF Construction, especially since energy costs in the region are Extreme.
The greatest selling point perhaps ICF's offer to the region is their disaster resistance. All of the Tropical Islands experience storms with great regularity while some are hit full strength every few years. Additionally, earthquakes are a real possibility; a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti in 2010.
Further, it is noted however, that the Caribbean has a well-established tradition of concrete construction, even for inexpensive residential projects. Raw materials for concrete and trainable labor are sometimes readily available too.
The market's proximity to North American Manufacturing facilities makes it particularly attractive. Because of these factors, its no surprise that a number of ICF projects have already been built in the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean.
There are of course, challenges. Many Caribbean Islands use the metric system, which creates difficulties for North American brands sized in feet and inches.
Shipping cost and import tariffs are considerations as well. Knock-down forms and those with hinged ties enjoy an obvious freight advantage, but all ICF's can be shipped and several blocks with molded ties have also found success in the Caribbean. Import taxes typically range from 5-45%. Cement is usually duty-free in parts of the Caribbean though. So ICF's compete at a significant cost handicap to concrete block. (these tariffs have declined in recent years) but the situation varies. Fifteen of the largest economies are members of Caricom, a regional free trade group that has pledged to reduce import taxes from 45% down to 20%. Others have import regulations governed by the European Union: Martinique, Guadaloupe and the Dutch Antilles, the UK: Cayman Islands, and British Virgin Islands, or US: Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The biggest obstacles to greater market penetration are finding skilled labor, local culture, and the general economy. Doulas Bennion, Manager of Quad-Lock TTS says "most locals in the Caribbean are used to living with natural ventilation not air conditioning, so in their opinion there is no compelling reason to make the switch unless it is lower crucial costs." Bennion also reports that the Caribbean is still in the midst of a major construction recession. Until recently much of the high-end housing in the Caribbean region was being sold to US, Canadians and Europeans retires. But with the recession, many of these individuals have found themselves unable to retire and the Caribbean finds itself with a surplus of high-end housing and developers are struggling to stay viable.