By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Disney Cruise Line yesterday teamed with Eleuthera's Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) to pledge $1m in assistance for the island's business start-ups.
The funds, which will be distributed over a three-year period, are designed to help small businesses and entrepreneurs participate in development projects including the cruise line's Lighthouse Point project.
Speaking at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the three organisations, K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, said: "This programme is not about the status quo, and it is not about empowering those who have already been empowered. This is about taking ordinary Bahamians and giving them the opportunity to create real wealth.
"This MoU is a model of what we hope to achieve in other communities throughout The Bahamas as we look to bring additional investment to the country. This is not just about creating jobs; this is about creating wholesome communities because, at the end of the day, when we have happy communities we will have successful and profitable businesses."
Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Cruise Line, added: "We are pledging over $1m over the next three years to support new businesses and to support new leaders.....
"Our organisations are coming together with the goal of empowering entrepreneurs and small businesses in Eleuthera, and maximising their economic opportunities for the long run. Disney is excited to be a part of this community, and to help create a more robust and resilient economy in Eleuthera."
The new facility will be located in Rock Sound, with programmes delivered in group and one-on-one settings by both the Small Business Development Centre and the Chamber.
Services will include business development advisory services, business communication training, customer service training, business mentorship and other seminars and programming designed to equip Eleuthera businesses for success. The facility will also provide shared work space, high-speed internet, phone service and meeting rooms. Disney will also have a small office there.
Disney's Lighthouse Point project has has already come under fire from both local and international environmentalists due to concerns about its impact on the pristine South Eleuthera site, and surrounding area and sea.
An online petition was launched last year with the endorsement of environmental groups reEarth, Save the Bays, Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation (BREEF), Earth Care and Water Keepers Bahamas in a bid to prevent Disney making what they described as a "big mistake" at Lighthouse Point.
However, Davinia Grant, the SBDC's executive director, said: "I'm really happy that Disney has partnered with us and the Eleuthera Chamber, because now we are able to have a full-time office in Eleuthera with advisors on the ground who can dedicate time to service not just clients interested in obtaining contracts from Disney but any client on Eleuthera."
"This strategic partnership aligns perfectly with our goals to provide employment, create ownership opportunities and drive development in The Bahamas. Equipping our start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises with effective new tools and training is an important step forward in our quest for sustainable growth and prosperity."
Thomas Sands, the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce's president, said: "For the first time that I know of a major foreign investor, who is investing in Eleuthera, is taking a bold step in setting a benchmark in terms of their corporate partnership."
"This co-operative effort with Disney will not only help existing businesses grow and thrive, but enable new ventures to get off the ground with some of the fundamental resources they need," said Candice Turnquest, the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce's executive director.
"Together we are able to present a unified programme offering excellent training and services along with direct connectivity to ongoing economic projects in the region. We are truly grateful for the support of our friends from Disney Cruise Lines= who are partnering with us to create this facility, which we know will foster a spirit of innovation and commerce."
Mr Sands last year told Tribune Business the private sector would back the cruise line's Lighthouse Point project provided the results from the project's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) were "favourable".
Responding to this newspaper's questions in the wake of renewed lobbying against Disney's plans by its environmental activist opponents, Mr Sands and the Chamber also supported the Government's decision to link full approval to the absence of adverse effects on the area's pristine environment.
"We understand and note the environmental concerns being communicated, and agree that any development happening on our island should seek to protect the island's ecology as much as possible," he added at the time.
"With that in mind, we support the government's requirement to have an Environmental Impact Assessment completed prior to the project being fully approved, and we continue to wait on the findings of that assessment.
"If it is favourable, I do not see any reason why the business community would not support the Disney development, as we do with all developments that seek to positively impact our economy." Disney's Heads of Agreement requires that all necessary environmental approvals be in place before it starts construction."