By YOURI KEMP
Grand Bahama firms were yesterday urged to “make the most” of their one-year Economic Recovery Zone (ERZ) designation, a private sector leader saying: “We didn’t expect three years.”
Gregory LaRoda, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce president, told Tribune Business that the government’s decision to extend post-Dorian tax breaks and other financial relief beyond the island’s east had been met with approval from many businesses.
“When we went out and did our surveys of small businesses, one of the things they said they wanted to see was the ERZ initiative extended to the entire Grand Bahama. I think we need to make the most of that one year for what we have,” Mr LaRoda said.
“Freeport businesses didn’t expect to get the same three-year timeframe that east Grand Bahama got. We are happy with the one year and we will just watch to see how it goes.
“If the need is still there after the 12-month period, we can try to convince him [the prime minister] and we feel that, once he hears the business community on the matter, he will extend it. But I think we need to make the most of that one year that the government is granting us for what we can.”
Mr LaRoda added that the chamber wanted to be more involved in the business relief initiative being led by the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) for its licensees within the Port area. “We are involved with that,” he said. “But not as much as we would like.
“There are some meetings going on with the business community and the GBPA today [yesterday] that I am aware of, but I could not attend because I had to be in Nassau today... The Port Authority is now starting to meet with license holders to see what can be done from the Port’s standpoint.”
Mr LaRoda outline several issued highlighted by respondents to the business survey that the chamber circulated immediately following Hurricane Dorian’s passage. “Businesses wanted the duty concessions and VAT waivers for equipment and machines, but we understand that this is mainly granted by the government,” he added.
“Second, they wanted license fees waived and other concessions to be granted by the Port Authority. Third, they needed help with repairs and mold remediation. The entire island had damage from flooding, but in Freeport proper it was mainly flood damage and not as much structural damage.”
“Fourth, they needed access to capital. Low-cost business loans to help with replenishing inventory and getting new equipment.”
The chamber president continued: “The exigency order that was put in place by the government was a good thing, particularly since it has been extended to companies on the island. So that means you can use that same exigency order and buy locally.
“Because one of the issues was that we could only use the exigency for stuff if we were buying away. You can get your approvals and purchase locally on the island. That helps with encouraging folks to stay home and buy locally.”
“This survey we conducted started right after the hurricane. So matters like having reliable power, water and telecommunications also ranked highly, but these issues have now started to subside. The power company did a Yeoman’s job in getting power back to the main areas, especially in Freeport proper. There is still an issue with potable water and that is affecting the people in the restaurant and food business because they have to buy five gallon water jugs to cook and clean with.”
Mr LaRoda praised Aliv for “getting the cell phones up right away. BTC (The Bahamas Telecommunications Company) is lagging behind but are starting to catch up slowly”.