Thank you, and good morning.
I am so pleased to be here with you for this Cat Island Business Outlook.
I thank The Counselors for inviting me to share our bold vision for Cat Island, and our plans to facilitate investment through enhanced infrastructure and business support for Cat Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay.
Family Island development is not a mere political catchphrase for my government. It is a cornerstone of our Blueprint for Change, and it is an imperative that is near and dear to me.
In developing policies to spur economic growth and improve the quality of life on our islands, investment, infrastructure and innovation are three key areas of focus. We are seeing positive indicators of economic rebound and growth for Cat Island and several of our other Family Islands.
In 2021, Cat Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay collectively recorded a nominal GDP of $34.2 million. Just over 45 percent thereof ($15.5 million) was driven by real estate and rental activities, with industries including accommodations, food services and the arts, generating $4.4 million.
Economic activity for the islands grew by 2 per cent between 2020 and 2021. In 2019 – prior to the COVID-19 pandemic – some $88.6 million in economic activity was recorded. This level of activity can be achieved again, and there is potential for even greater economic gains through the expansion of existing and new industries.
We expect continued growth as we work to support Bahamian entrepreneurs, attract viable foreign direct investment projects, and secure greater numbers of stopover visitors.
We opened our Tourism office here in Cat Island last year, and the dedicated work of the Ministry of Tourism is yielding remarkable post-pandemic results.
Tourism statistics indicate that of the five islands last year whose foreign air arrivals exceeded 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers – those being Andros, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exuma and Long Island – Cat Island led the way with a close to 70 per cent increase in foreign air arrivals in 2022 compared to 2019.
Equally as exciting are the arrivals numbers for January of this year. Cat Island experienced a nation-leading 175.4 per cent increase in foreign air arrivals compared to January 2019.
This increasing interest in Cat Island as a destination augurs well not only for local businesses but for current and prospective foreign direct investment.
FDI – Cat Island and San Salvador
Back in 2009, the Cat Island Partners broke ground on their proposed mixed-use golf, resort, residential and marina project for Old Bight.
The developers at the time encountered delays due to a number of factors including that the Port Howe site identified for its proposed marina, lacked available Crown Land nearby to make the site viable.
The developers reapplied to the government with a scaled-down, re-designed proposal, and I announce this morning that the new proposal for the Cat Island Partners’ $160.45 million mixed-use golf, resort, residential and marina project at the PGA Village in Southeast Cat Island, has received government approval.
We intend to amend the existing Heads of Agreement with the developers.
Phase I of the project is earmarked to provide 150 Bahamian jobs during the construction phase, and 150 to 300 Bahamian jobs during the operational phase.
Phase I is slated to include the construction of 125 single-family residential lots; 11.6 acres of multifamily residential pads; 9 holes of the original Rees Jones golf design (with an additional 9 holes to be added in phase 2); a village that includes a welcome centre; as well as a full-service restaurant, a pro-shop, 12 private 1 and 2 bedroom cabanas, and a multi-use pavilion.
In San Salvador, we were successful upon coming to the office in getting the Club Med resort reopened and getting Bahamians back to work.
San Salvador is bustling with robust job opportunities – perhaps even reaching full employment, as numerous Bahamians have several jobs, while others have made the decision to leave the traditionally sought-after security of the public service for work at Club Med.
In the category of local entrepreneurship, we are proud of a son of San Salvador, Trevor Williams, who operates a 100 per cent Bahamian-owned water company which supplies Club Med and other local customers.
Trevor’s accomplishment is one of many examples of how viable foreign direct investments can create avenues for Bahamians to start and build their own successful enterprises.
Infrastructure – Cat Island
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Preliminary results of the 2022 national census put the population of Cat Island at 1,602 – an approximately 5.3 per cent increase from the 2010 census year. Conversely, the population in San Salvador decreased by just over 12 per cent and decreased by just over 9 per cent in Rum Cay.
Job opportunities and services in New Providence continue to draw Bahamians away from our Family Islands. A catalyst to arresting this “urban pull” dynamic, familiar to economists and policy-makers in many contexts, is an infrastructure that can improve the quality of life for our Family Islanders and support and encourage new economic activity.
Adequate infrastructure is essential to facilitating investment both foreign and domestic, and we are making necessary improvements in this regard.
We broke ground in March on our new multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art International Airport at New Bight, and as I previously indicated, the New Bight airport is key to attracting investment, revitalizing old industries, and incentivizing new ones.
Upgrades to the airport at Arthur’s Town will include a $10 million runway rehabilitation, a remodelled terminal building, new solar runway lights, an airport beacon, an apron floodlighting system, and a police station adjacent to the airport.
A public-private sector partnership will be utilized to carry out 50 miles of road paving, and 90 miles of water installation will be carried out by the Water and Sewerage Corporation, which will result in the provision of potable water throughout Cat Island. Public works projects for Cat Island also include road drainage and the installation of a new seawall.
Adequate healthcare infrastructure is critical for one’s quality of life and is also essential for a stable investment. Investment in healthcare infrastructure that ensures Family Island clinics are properly equipped is a priority, and we are making steady progress.
Contracts have been awarded and contractors mobilized for renovations and repairs to the Old Bight and Orange Creek clinics. In 2016, the Ministry of Works and Urban Development awarded contracts to construct new clinics at Old Bight and Orange Creek. Following the 2017 Elections, these construction projects were suspended.
Upon our election to office, Cabinet approval was sought and granted to re-engage the contractors to complete work on these clinics.
Financing through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will be utilized to carry out much-needed healthcare infrastructure upgrades throughout the Family Islands.
These upgrades include the construction of a new clinic in Stevenson; the purchase of vehicles for medical, nursing, allied healthcare and support services; and the purchase of ambulances for deployment in Family Islands including Cat Island and San Salvador.
Additional upgrades include the installation of fibre optic connections to clinics throughout The Bahamas; the procurement of digital technology for electronic health records; and the procurement of new medical equipment including ultrasound, electrocardiogram and portable x-ray machines, laboratory and dental equipment, and defibrillators.
Clinics in Cat Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay will receive these upgrades.
A four-classroom extension to the Arthur’s Town Comprehensive School will also be constructed to accommodate additional students.
With these upgrades and developments underway for Cat Island, it is my hope that Cat Islanders who have left the island will consider returning home. To further encourage Cat Islanders to return, we intend to make Crown Lands available on a lease-to-own basis, for the construction of a second home or other approved developments.
We have a bank of Crown Lands here on the island, and such an initiative is one I have always promoted. Now that the Bahamian people have enabled me to make this happen, I will do so.
Infrastructure – San Salvador and Rum Cay
In San Salvador, we will construct a new administration building to replace the previous building destroyed by fire in 2020.
As was the case here in Cat Island, contracts awarded in 2016 for the completion of the United Estates Clinic in San Salvador and a new clinic on Rum Cay were suspended by the previous administration. Cabinet has approved the re-engagement of contractors for these projects, and mobilization is expected shortly.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness carried out work to strengthen healthcare services on San Salvador, with targeted renovations undertaken to the Cockburn Town Clinic including the installation of a new portable x-ray machine. The Nurses’ residence was also renovated.
Additional completed upgrades to the Cockburn Town Clinic include building renovations, a redesign of the workspace, and an upgrade of the air conditioning system for negative air pressure and triage.
To further bolster economic and social development, we intend to introduce a housing program on San Salvador in the upcoming fiscal year, and we are now identifying funding for that program.
There can be no lasting growth without the educational development of our youth. We have completed work on the San Salvador Primary School, and construction on the San Salvador Comprehensive School is slated to begin in the upcoming fiscal year.
On Rum Cay, we will build a new administration building. Additionally, plans have already been drawn for a proper airport terminal for Rum Cay, which will be a replica of the terminal in Ragged Island.
Industry and Ease of Doing Business
A high ease of doing business creates an environment conducive to investment. Residents here are no strangers to vexing connectivity challenges, which have the counterintuitive effect of causing digitization to become a hindrance to business and productivity.
We opened a passport office here this year, and residents also have access to the Registrar’s Department for registers of births and deaths, the government’s portal for business licenses, and the Customs Department’s portal. However, connectivity and system issues continue to derail the improvements intended via these resources. These are issues we are working to rectify.
As the global push toward digitization continues, we remain determined to ensure we bring all Bahamians along with us. We can keep pace with digital transformation and still leave room for the analogue environment with which many Bahamians are intimately familiar.
As Minister of Finance, I continue to look at ways that ease of doing business can and should be improved by my government.
One possibility is that we allow business license applicants to receive a notional license until their business license can be formalized. If one applies for license renewal, for example, and the application is tied to whether one’s taxes are current or not, I want to address that issue to make the process more conducive to commercial activity.
An individual, for instance, might win a government contract, but to get the contract signed, a tax certificate must be submitted to show compliance. The individual may owe real property tax and national insurance. If we work to think as a businessperson, we would determine that we will sign the contract, and deduct the sums owed to the government so that the work for which the contract was awarded can begin in the shortest possible time.
Insofar as developing industries on our islands, farming is an avenue I encourage more Bahamians to seriously consider. Cat Island was a known exporter of tomatoes, onions and watermelon.
In fact, prior to the draining of the Florida Everglades, we exported tomatoes to South Florida, which is how the late Sir Sidney Poitier came to be born there. Sir Sidney’s parents went over to sell their tomatoes, and his mother went into early labour. The family returned to Cat Island shortly thereafter.
Connecting today’s local farmers to the market beyond the packing house is key. Not all produce grown may be fit for the market, but could be processed to produce items such as watermelon juice or watermelon jam.
We have initiatives to facilitate a resurgence in the farming industry, and we encourage Bahamians to take advantage of those initiatives.
In conclusion, Family Island development is key to national development – and we are committed on both fronts.
Our rich and vibrant cultural heritage, coupled with infrastructural upgrades, necessary improvements to the delivery of government services, and relatively safe communities, make our Family Islands ideal places to live, visit and invest.
This year’s theme of “Forward, Upward, Onward, Together” reminds us that we must respect and build upon the gains of the past, and work hand in hand toward progress for the future.
My government is determined to foster such progress and to give Cat Island, San Salvador and Rum Cay the quality of life and development you deserve.