By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Grand Bahama’s business community is assessing whether to form its own foundation so that disaster recovery funds will be available after future catastrophic hurricanes.
Kevin Seymour, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce president, confirmed to Tribune Business that the proposal was in its “embryonic” stages, but initial talks had already been held with the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and larger businesses.
“We’re looking at forming our own foundation,” he said. “Traditionally, Grand Bahama, Abaco and Bimini have fallen into a hot hurricane spot.
“It’s not a question of if, but when, this happens again. We want to be in a better position to hit the ground running, and do everything necessary to get the business community back on stream as quickly as possible.”
Grand Bahama, whose economy has yet to fully recover from the Royal Oasis closure following Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, was dealt another devastating blow last month by Hurricane Matthew’s Category Four winds and storm surge.
With many businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), struggling to rebuild and reopen, the Grand Bahama Chamber and wider business community are seeking to develop a permanent disaster relief financing mechanism to ensure private sector recovery.
“It’s very much in the embryonic stages,” Mr Seymour told Tribune Business. “We’ve had some good conversations with the GBPA and large members, and every indication so far is that it’s something we need to be doing, given the dire straits some of the businesses find themselves in now.”
He added that the private sector and wider community were now looking to adopt the phrase ‘Grand Bahama strong’ to reflect the island’s post-Matthew resilience.
“In talking about the funding, we were discussing something to uplift the spirits of the people of Grand Bahama,” Mr Seymour told Tribune Business.
“We’re looking to coin the slogan ‘Grand Bahama Strong’ in all our public pronouncements to convey the essence of the people, the spirit and their perseverance.”
He added that the Grand Bahama Chamber had been carrying out assessment studies and surveys of its members, and other businesses, to determine the extent to which individual companies had been impacted by Matthew.
Mr Seymour said his organisation had partnered with the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) in Nassau, and the latter’s Rebuild Bahamas ‘joint venture’ with Rotary, to raise funds and assist SME recovery on Grand Bahama.
“A fair number of businesses do carry insurance, but in some cases they may be underinsured or not carry catastrophic insurance,” he told Tribune Business. “It’s going to be a long journey for those businesses to get back on stream.”
Mr Seymour said the Chamber and Rebuild Bahamas would be seeking to assist companies that had “adopted best business practices”, and were either suffering from an insurance “shortfall” or required a modest sum to come back on line. Those requiring more significant financial assistance are being referred to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
The Grand Bahama Chamber president praised the GBPA, Grand Bahama Power Company and the Ministry of Grand Bahama on how they were handling the restoration efforts to-date.
The Power Company, in particular, were “doing an exemplary job in which they have approached the restoration effort”.
“Those guys are working at breakneck speed to restore everything quickly and safely,” Mr Seymour said. “I’d like to commend them.”