Where does Grand Bahama go from here?
When Hurricane Dorian hit the island, it didn’t just create a whole new set of problems – it magnified the problems that were already there.
High unemployment beforehand has now reached crisis levels – one in two of the island’s residents are out of work.
For the government, it’s an unenviable task. If this was a medical case, the first task would be to stop the bleeding – and that’s exactly what Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest is trying to do when he says the goal is to get small and medium businesses back up and running. Large-scale projects such as resorts might be the big building blocks people might call for – but the network of smaller businesses around them is the mortar that holds them in place. People need food stores, garages, doctors, importers, hardware stores, and, dare we say it, newspaper offices.
A pledge conference is also planned to stir up donations and support for recovery efforts after the storm – turning to the world and asking for help.
Any such help that comes will be welcome – but do we need to fundamentally rethink what is happening with Grand Bahama? Indeed – will doing so teach us lessons for The Bahamas as a whole?
When the Grand Lucayan fully reopens, it will be a welcome shot in the arm for the economy – but is a reliance on tentpole tourism products always going to be our fallback answer?
Can’t Grand Bahama be… well, grander? In short, don’t we need a Grand Plan for Grand Bahama?
The world is changing, and with it the nature of jobs. The devastation wrought by Dorian can’t be described as an opportunity – but it can be a turning point.
The local chamber of commerce is right when it says that all sides need to get together to talk about what comes next – rather than each stakeholder dashing along doing their own thing without discussing whether what they are doing is the best option.
More than that, bring in some of the best and brightest minds outside The Bahamas too. If we want to attract industries other than tourism, then let’s hear from the leaders of such industries what they need.
There are issues that need to be resolved quickly – sort out the airport, for starters – but beyond that let’s not rebuild a Grand Bahama fit for the century gone by, but one fit for what the future will throw at us.
Hutchison Whampoa seems to lack the interest it had in years gone by, so either get them to be re-engaged in the island or find a way to ease them out.
There were vague discussions of creating silicon islands – parts of The Bahamas that could entice technology companies – but what has happened to that? Can we envisage a technology campus for both established names and exciting start-ups and provide them the power and internet platform they need to succeed?
Dorian was a disaster – but it may not be our last. Hanging our entire futures on tourism when climate change and rising waters may increasingly threaten our shores is short-sighted. We must diversify, and we must start now – and it starts by talking about what Grand Bahama needs.
The recovery effort there is crucial – but if it is done right, it may just prove the model for all our futures.