By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Exuma has “not done as good a job as it should” in preparing residents to maximise the benefits from major investment projects such as the upcoming $200 million Children’s Bay development, its Chamber of Commerce president said yesterday.
Pedro Rolle told Tribune Business that Exumians had “no one to blame but ourselves” for this, arguing that the island needed to develop structured mechanisms for training its people to better exploit job and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Backing the proposed Children’s Bay project, which is earmarked for cays just off northern Exuma, as “a wonderful opportunity to create opportunities outside Georgetown”, Mr Rolle said ensuring the benefits went to residents first was an “ongoing, urgent concern”.
“The ongoing concern is that we know they are coming, and have sufficient time, but I don’t think we’ve done as good a job as we should have done in ensuring persons in Exuma are adequately prepared to take advantage of opportunities,” Mr Rolle told Tribune Business.
“As long as we have people in Exuma who are unemployed or underemployed, I feel bad that others may be coming in and taking opportunities. That’s a reality, that’s a concern.”
The Chamber president added: “We have to develop mechanisms on the ground so that people, once they know the jobs are coming and are interested, go directly into training so that they are equipped when the opportunities arrive.
“We have the National Training Agency here, which I think needs to be given a higher profile and more resources, so that it can move about and do a better job of recognising and sensitising people; there’s an opportunity coming up that will lead to jobs.”
The Children’s Bay/Williams Cay project, which has been going through the planning and permitting process following a Heads of Agreement signing last year, appears ready to come out of the ‘investment pipeline’ judging by the February 5 town meeting that will be held on Exuma to discuss it.
The project, which is being developed by Swiss businesswoman Dona Bertarelli, is designed as a low density, boutique property that will create between 200 to 300 full-time jobs once properly constructed.
Mr Rolle told Tribune Business that Exuma failed to maximise the foreign direct investment (FDI) benefits if the majority of jobs went to Bahamians from other islands, as the majority of their income and salaries tended to be transferred back home.
“I continue to talk about sustainable economies and that persons from Exuma have nowhere else to go,” Mr Rolle said. “If they’re earning a living in Exuma, they will deploy their resources there.
“If they come from Cat Island, Long Island, where my family is, that’s where my income will go, so Exuma doesn’t get the full benefits of these projects. That’s something we’ve got to work on, and I blame us, Exumians, for not being equipped. It’s always an urgent issue for us.”
The Children’s Bay development promises to include a five-star resort and golf club, a boutique pavilion-room hotel, over-the-water pavilions, estate homes, a clubhouse comprising a restaurant, boutique library, screening room and bar and lunches.
The project also involved the creation of Marine Protected Area, and the use of renewable energy.
Ms Bertarelli and her family’s business interests includes the five-star Grand Hotel Park in Gstaad, which was honoured as 2013 Best Hotel in Switzerland by Premium Switzerland, and rated in the 2012 Robb Report’s World Best Resorts list. She is involved in philanthropic activities in marine conservation, life sciences and children’s education.