Exuma businesses are hoping a project to upgrade ten miles of the island's roads will provide a much-needed boost to the economy and employment amid ongoing COVID-19 struggles.
Caribbean Pavement Solutions (CPS), a Bahamas Striping Group of Companies affiliate, has booked hotel rooms and already hired local sub-contractors as it readies to carry out infrastructure improvements awaited by all island residents.
The project's start comes at a critical time for Exuma's economy. Record-breaking increases in COVID-19 infections in many US states, and especially key tourist source markets such as Florida, yesterday prompted the prime minister to suspend international commercial flights and sea travel between The Bahamas and the country that provides 82 percent of this country's visitors.
"The shutdown sent everyone into a tailspin. Tourism did a nosedive "From then to now we've just had one [guest] here or one there...for the most part we were at two percent occupancy," said Dwight Hart, owner of Exuma Palms Hotel, a 12-room guest house which boasts the Club YOLO Grill and Hookah Bar.
"Now, with Caribbean Pavement Solutions coming onboard, and with us being their housing location, it's a life-saving event. They will occupy ten rooms."
Based on a two-mile stretch of beach in Mount Thompson, Exuma Palms plummeted to "zero business" after its last guest departed on March 21. Occupancy picked up over the Independence holiday weekend as closed beaches in New Providence sent more affluent Bahamians to nearby Family Islands. Still, it was not nearly enough business for Exuma Palms to offset months of closure.
Caribbean Pavement Solutions (CPS) will arrive on Exuma next month. "The spin-off is tremendous," said Mr Hart, whose property provides employment for ten persons.
"For instance, we are increasing the amount of food we're ordering since we know now we have a certain amount of people we're going to feed every day. We're transitioning from weekly ordering to a month's supply at a time, so our volume is increasing. That translates into revenue for some other business."
Exuma-based contractor, Damien Cox, added: "It means we're going to put food on our table for that month. Pay a little bills, do a little grocery shopping, buy one or two school items and get caught up on bills allowed to slide over the three-month lockdown.
Mr Cox, who leads a team of five men, and his company, Cox Construction, were awarded the contract to erect the concrete base and loading ramps for Caribbean Pavement Solutions' asphalt plant, plus install the plumbing work and create the necessary ponds.
"Coronavirus took a big toll on everything and everybody. It is going to take time to roll back into what it was before," said Mr Cox, who has been in business for 11 years. "I can use more work, but I'm happy to have this."
"It just makes sense for Exumians to do some of the prep work, particularly the jobs that require heavy equipment, like the site clearing for the asphalt plant," said Caribbean Pavement Solutions' president, Atario Mitchell.
Pointing to the contract his company signed earlier this month with Exuma Fencing (EF), Mr Mitchell said it is "cost effective, expedient and just good business" to hire locals.
An EF spokesperson confirmed that "in short order" it would begin erecting a perimeter fencing around six acres of land near Exuma's community hospital.
Using 20 workers to create two distinct sections, EF expects the job to take "no more than two weeks". It is the company's first fencing project post-lockdown.
"I know what it's like to be a small business owner uneasy about the future," said Mr Mitchell, whose company was birthed ten years ago from a $5,000 government grant.
"Once we're on the ground next month, the community will see and feel our presence at restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and patronising other small businesses."