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BUSINESS BITES: To really grow our economy we need foreigners - tens of thousands of them

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Richard Coulson

By RICHARD COULSON

Whenever I look at a map of the Caribbean I am astonished at the size of our country: an archipelago 760 miles long, matching the arc stretching from the Virgin Islands down to Trinidad, giving us sovereignty over the 150,000 square miles of earth and water known as the Lucayan Sea. With a land mass of 5,500 square miles comprising our 700 island and cays, we dwarf most of fellow Caricom members like Barbados, Antigua and Grenada, fly-speck island nations of lovely scenes and vigorous people but not blessed with the God-given geography that makes us unique.

There’s no other Caribbean nation that comes close to all our advantages:

· Two distinct government, commercial, financial and tourist centres, with the sophisticated facilities of established Nassau and steadily improving Freeport.

· The industrial zone of Grand Bahama with its container trans-shipment terminal, ship-repair yard and manufacturing and technology zones.

· Higher education like the dynamic young University of the Bahamas.

· Agricultural potential provided by the sweeping fields of Andros.

· The Western Hemisphere’s two largest resort hotel complexes in Atlantis and Baha Mar.

· The mini-archipelago of the Abacos, a yachting paradise..

· The unmatched marine and undersea resources of the Exuma chain.

· The barely tapped potential of skinny islands like Eleuthera and Long, Cat and Ragged, where choice realty abuts incomparable beaches or shorelines.

· All the above just across the Gulf Stream from the US market, served by nearly a dozen airports with direct flights to American terminals.

Until about 50 years ago our dispersion across many islands was a hindrance, not a help, to development. Limited telecommunications and movement only by sail-driven mail-boats, served to keep our citizens apart not bring them together. All that has changed. The Internet and its many digital cousins, plus ever improving air and marine transport, are demolishing the problems of geographical distance. Eventually bridges and causeways may do more.

Our continuing problem is simply – people. We have plenty of bright Bahamians and the shortcomings of our public primary and secondary education are being addressed. But our present 400,000 population — actuarially predicted soon to level off and decline — is too small to provide the human resources for a growing economy.

We need radical re-thinking of our immigration policy, to double our numbers to at least 800,000. No growing country can move forward with stagnant population. The United States did not fulfil its destiny by stopping with the Mayflower Party and its Anglo-Saxon descendants from the British Isles. They were followed by successive immigrant waves from Nordic countries, Ireland, Italy, Poles and Slavs, later Latins and Orientals, all of whom entered the melting pot and became proud American citizens. Black Africans, imported disgracefully as slaves, went though the transformation process and joined the national consensus.

The same must happen with The Bahamas. With millions of educated, qualified foreigners eager to move and work here, our Government can surely pick and choose a few hundred thousand who would soon become proud, contributing, Bahamian citizens. Their race and colour would be immaterial, so our traditional ratio of roughly 90 percent black citizenship would inevitably decline, as we too became a more diverse melting pot.

Fears of congestion from rising numbers are unrealistic, particularly when spread across many islands. New Providence itself has a density of only about 3,400 people per square mile, compared with Singapore with over 20,000. Many observers point to that compact island nation of 5.6 million as successfully combining a nexus of office towers and hi-rise condos with ample preserved acres of parks and green space. With proper planning, New Providence can develop in the same way, with downtown Nassau accepting the busy citified features of a Miami or Panama while surrounding areas remain residential or suburban. Charles Town’s colonial character can be strengthened.

Only nostalgia for past ways can hold us back from essential change.

And nostalgia is a sentiment for the old; the younger generation ignore it. Blind Blake and The Cat and the Fiddle that I enjoyed can be remembered and revered. But today’s tourists and locals packing Baha Mar’s Blue Note are blown away by our Vice Versa trio, whose “sheet music” now consists of digital I-pads carrying infinite tunes. Yes, times do change.

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The brilliant Edward St. George, who died in 2004.

It’s time the Grand Bahama Port Authority called it a day

When the Hawksbill Creek Agreement was signed in 1955, creating the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and the free-trade zone based in Freeport, The Bahamas was still an impoverished Crown Colony. Mass tourism and international banking had barely begun, and the mother country could provide minimal financial support. Development could only come from risk-taking foreign entrepreneurs like American Wallace Groves, and later the British St. George and Hayward families. In return for cash and business expertise, HM Government had no choice but to sign away virtually sovereign rights of governance over a 230 square mile swath of Bahamian territory in Grand Bahama.

Again, times have changed. The entire GBPA structure only survives as a colonial anachronism. After the death of the brilliant Edward St. George in 2004, its role in major new investment sharply declined, as Freeport and GB sank into recession due to family disputes, back-to-back hurricanes and the fading cooperation of major GBPA partner, Hong Kong-based Hutchison-Whampoa .

Not the GBPA, but our Ministers of Finance and Tourism, together with Minister for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson, and Hotel Corporation chairman Mike Scott, took the lead in announcing and negotiating the purchase and planned resale of the Grand Lucaya Resort, as part of a new tourist centre initiated by Royal Caribbean together with Mexican ITM hotel group, in addition to the separate cruise port being undertaken by Carnival Cruises in another part of the island. These ventures clearly represent the wave of the future in Grand Bahama’s renaissance. The St. George and Hayward family heirs remain owners and directors of GBPA but are rarely visible in creating new business.

The GBPA remains active with many administrative functions, licensing businesses and providing municipal services throughout Freeport. These responsibilities, and its experienced staff, could be transferred to Government. We already have an active Minister of State for Grand Bahama. His office could be expanded to assume all the responsibilities of the GBPA. This would terminate the peculiar status where most of the island is run by the State with a big chunk in the middle carved out under separate GBPA jurisdiction. Combining them would eliminate numerous turf battles between different regulators each claiming rights of supervision. It would also simplify the continuing financial negotiations wrangling about who collects and spends taxes and duties.

Of course any such combination or merger would require acquisition of the two families’ controlling equity interests in the GBPA, in effect for years. This should not suggest any form of forced nationalization, but rather a negotiated transaction recognizing fair valuation. Any arrangement must reflect the nation holding sovereign control of its territory, but in partnership with private investors seeking a long-term capital return from financing a major position in Grand Bahama’s growth potential.

The concept has already been followed with our Nassau’s airport and container port, and it’s expected that our massive new cruise port will follow the same pattern. Acquiring the GBPA would be a larger deal, which must include Hutchison-Whampoa’s under-performing realty holdings and high-cost airport. But our Ministry of Finance, with growing expertise carefully run by Minister Turnquest, should be able to handle the challenge.

Comments

killemwitdakno 4 years, 10 months ago

Which is why their kids can't be automatic citizens.

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BahamaPundit 4 years, 10 months ago

Are some of us just goofy? This author wants more grotesque, dirty, littering people in these Bahama island gems? You asking for more ape-crapping people. Are you serious? Why don't you just move to Haiti then, if you want to smell more body odour.

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bogart 4 years, 10 months ago

Da Bahamas investor has it as 100,000 square miles jan1, 2006 ?.......Glad to find out its 150,000 square miles...... School ATLAS 2009 Bahamas.Longman...land mass 5383..sq miles...way da go we increasing..to 5,500.....!!!!!!

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BahamaPundit 4 years, 10 months ago

Now I've seen it all. Of all the silly things I've read, this is top of the list: "But our present 400,000 population — actuarially predicted soon to level off and decline — is too small to provide the human resources for a growing economy." Every scholar in the world is calling for a decrease in global populations. Every country (see Venezuela) is struggling to feed its people due to their large amount. Every environmentalist is calling for lowering the carbon footprint. Yet, this "dude" is calling for us to double our population. The Bahamas is BLESSED due to its small population!!!!!

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birdiestrachan 4 years, 10 months ago

to begin with basic necessary facilities must be in place. necessary ambulances, fire stations. hospital beds and schools. even jails.

Some of the problems in the Bahamas right now is that the facilities that the Country has now at 350,000 was accommodations for 150 thousands,

And they say I am a "D" Grader.

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My2centz 4 years, 10 months ago

It actually fits you...personal insults in lieu of logical conversation is not a trait of a mature person of average intelligence.

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realitycheck242 4 years, 10 months ago

The writer wants the native Bahamian to become a second class minority in this blessed country of ours. If what he wants takes place, Gentrification will be the order of the day in this country Our resources will be further strained and classism will have a new meaning this country.

I say eliminate or reduce the Brain drain, Give Bahamians the same investment incentives as foreigners and we will be just alright.

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Economist 4 years, 10 months ago

Not only do we need to give Bahamians the same investment incentives but to eliminate the brain drain we will need to encourage sensible FDI.

BTW the WTO will require us to offer the same incentives to Bahamians.

There is nothing here for our smart Bahamians to come back to. Old minded thought process, complete resistance to change, feeling that young MUST respect their elders even if that stupid elder is holding them back.

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TheMadHatter 4 years, 10 months ago

Those who think the Government can run FREEPORT better than the Port Authority should ask themselves why has the Government not developed West End and East End. Those ends of the island are not under Port Authority Control (with the exception that nobody is allowed to build an airport there without the Port's approval).

People who want the Port gone, should ask themselves why they don't pack up and move to East End? Why don't they pack up and move to West End? Why doesn't government demonstrate its superior knowledge and expertise on those ends and then we can all beg for them to come in and upgrade Freeport to those levels.

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BahamaPundit 4 years, 10 months ago

Diversity. Yes. We definitely need more of that. Less Haitians and more diverse looking people. I'm 42 years old and this country is less diverse than when I was a teenager. Haiti is pumping in low IQ people into the system, and the people are looking more and more like Africa. We are one of the least diverse countries in the Caribbean it appears (not easy for single men). If the author is speaking of diversifying the population, so we don't have another reign of Brave Davis and PLP: "I can tief what I want because I'm black," I can get behind that. But simply doubling the population with low IQ people would be an environmental disaster. Even doubling the population with diverse, high IQ people would harm the environment and likely be ecologically unsustainable. They should be required to live in Grand Bahama or Andros -- New Providence is completely full.

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DDK 4 years, 10 months ago

What about the low IQ Bahamians being "pumped" into the system? Haiti cannot take all the credit!

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BahamaPundit 4 years, 10 months ago

How can we even tell who is a real Bahamian anymore? Our public schools may have 100% Haitian students, and we don't even know! 90% of out tax dollars could be going to Haitians, and we would be none the wiser.

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SP 4 years, 10 months ago

Only privileged, financially secure individuals have this mindset. The average struggling Bahamian is already having a tough time making ends meet with all the expats hogging up well paying blue collar and white collar jobs across all industries.

The Bahamas need to firstly focus on uplifting the generations of Bahamians left behind educationally and financially by Pindling, Ingraham, and Christie before we can remotely start thinking about increasing the population with more expats!

Culson never identified with the average Bahamian, doesn't understand their way of life, and have absolutely NO CLUE what it's like to have to compete with expats for a meager survival.

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stillwaters 4 years, 10 months ago

Foreigners only come here to MAKE MONEY, nothing else!!!!!!!!!

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joeblow 4 years, 10 months ago

To grow the economy we need a properly educated populace, equal opportunities for local and foreign investors, less politics in everyday business affairs, easier access to capital for investors (banks only want to give consumer loans), less stifling regulations, stricter enforcement of immigration laws, lower electricity rates and less uneducated immigrants which will automatically reduce crime too! None of these necessitate MORE immigrants!

Diversification of the economy comes from investor ideas not importation of immigrants!

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banker 4 years, 10 months ago

The gene pool needs a little chlorine.

I agree with Coulson. There will be a huge economic impact of doubling the population. Bigger domestic markets, larger pool of capital for businesses to exploit, new fresh ideas and fresh businesses, better infrastructure, forward thinkers, a more global outlook -- everything good from diversity of opinions, culture, business and way of doing things. We currently have a low grade of human capital and legal immigration would help that.

But it will never happen for two reasons. (1) Bahamians are not enlightened enough, and that goes for the Prime Minister on down to the guy who sleeps against the stone wall on Balls Alley and eats coconuts to survive. (2) Due to global warming, most of the Bahamas will be under water in 30 year and a lot of the land mass will be submerged.

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Chucky 4 years, 10 months ago

Oh great another idiot who thinks economies need to forever grow by adding people. Well in our little Islands, are we supposed to want twice as many homes suffering power outages, twice as many people getting lousy education and lousy heathcare, twice as many cars, twice as many crimes, twice as many failed water systems, sewerage systems, Twice as many car accidents, twice as many stores Double every also doubles cost.

Grow our economic prosperity through growth in product by getting smarter and better at what we do. Stop expending efforts on things of low value. Improve our tourist product and invest to have more locally owned hotels. We have much wealth, why are our wealthy not owning these big resorts, developing what land gets developed.

Surely our big wealthy familys could have been behind Ocean Club, Lyford, Old Fort, Albany, Bakers Bay etc etc etc, So why havent they..... Id like to know.

Seems our wealthy only want to invest in things that they can derive revenue from Bahamians. Seems foreigners only invest in things that derive revenue from foreigners.

Why not fix just this issue of locals investing to capitalize on foreigners ..........

If the wealthy wont do it, why not put together a fund where smaller local investors pool resources to do the next big deal

Forget the 400,000 more immigrants, that will just double our problems, ruin what isnt ruined already. How many of you have gone back to places that were so pristine when you were children, only to think to yourselfthis is ruined now`too much development, too many people.

We don`t need more people.

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John 4 years, 10 months ago

The country may need foreigners to grow the economy but this cannot continue to be done at the expense of Bahamians. Too many Bahamian businesses are falling because they are not getting the benefits, locally and internationally, that foreign business are getting. Not only in terms of concessions and tax breaks, but greater access to capital at lower rates. Also their labor pool is greater. And while the welcome mat is being put out for foreigners, too many of the country’s brightest and best are fleeing the country to live abroad. This diaspora must be slowed down at least.

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TalRussell 4 years, 10 months ago

Yes, it is ma comrades, tis but way deflect away rumors many street corners which has it Dr. Duane, and KP, are preparing levy special 'sweet VAT' on all ice cream products and plan just-in-time drive up summer season prices be inflicting same VAT both Ice Cream and Snow Cones, as well Popsicle's... yes, no?

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DDK 4 years, 10 months ago

They won't stop until there's nothing left to tax!

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bogart 4 years, 10 months ago

COULDSON BEEN ROUND FER AWHILE...NASSAU BORN......AINT NO DIFFERENT FROM NO BAHAMIAN JONSERING FOR BUSINESS ......KNOWIN DWINGLING FINANCIAL BUSINESS LiKE ERRYBODY.....now fer dis screwy idea (perhaps populatin under populated Freeport --cheap canal properties couldnt reproduce at present prices) ...but think goodness there aint no ideas about growing acreage of coconut plamtation copra producing in Nassau...knowing dis one hurricane prone area....

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JoJo 4 years, 10 months ago

For an economy to sustain all these people there has to be an infrastructure in place, people require jobs to live. Times have changed people now do not live as the pioneers did. With an increased population and no available jobs the adverse effect of this will be an increase in crime rate. Furthermore If anybody has seen the Fyre Festival documentary which took place in the Bahamas one could only imagine what would happen if the amount of people suggested are put on islands without proper infrastructure in place and this was on a small scale.

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rcap 4 years, 10 months ago

I am very glad to have started this lively debate. I make one major point: in successful growing countries, essential infrastructure improvements rise in parallel with population growth. In 1800 Manhattan could not have supported present over one million. I disagree 100% with just one reader: the guy who compares us to Venezuela! RCoulson

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BahamaPundit 4 years, 10 months ago

That would be me. Respect for your effort. The real difficulty with your theory is ensuring that we double our population with "productive" citizens and not criminal-class leachers. You also have miscalculated how important it is to our black leaders that they never lose their black majority. They would rather a million Haitians for every white foreigner, if only to ensure they will always have a black majority and black ownership of the government and its treasury.

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