By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Exuma's Chamber of Commerce president has warned it will take time for economic activity to return to levels where it can support 60 percent of businesses that existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hailing the prime minister's decision to allow full commercial activity to resume on Exuma and all other islands that have escaped the virus as the first chance to get a hair-cut in two months, Pedro Rolle nevertheless warned that companies may not necessarily re-hire all those they employed prior to the lockdown that was imposed in mid-March.
He added that Exuma's full economic re-opening, which begins today as well as for other Family Islands, was also likely to be impacted by a "lag" of one to two weeks as the vital air transportation links between the island and Nassau will only resume on Monday, June 8.
And, acknowledging that "so many businesses have been waiting for so long" to receive the go-ahead to resume commercial activity, Mr Rolle said it would be critical for the Family Islands and their private sectors to understand how they can access the $55m worth of micro, small and medium-sized (MSME) enterprise funding that the government has made available in the upcoming 2020-2021 budget.
"Just because he [Dr Hubert Minnis] has declared Exuma open for commercial business does not mean all those persons previously employed will have a job to go to because this devastating pandemic will cause some businesses to be permanently closed," Mr Rolle told Tribune Business.
"We're now going to see how many businesses re-open. When we go to the Fish Fry we will see how many come back or how many say they don't have the resources to open up. There's no way to know until you go around and see. It will be a process to get back to where we were in terms of 60 percent back in business."
Speaking ahead of the Prime Minister's Office yesterday confirming the re-opening of inter-island transportation, including commercial flights and yachts and pleasure craft, Mr Rolle said this critical to restarting Exuma's economy.
"The next phase is in terms of the airport," he told this newspaper. "I'm still looking for clarity. We still need to determine when flights will come back to Exuma. We need to have that certainty, and don't have that at the moment.
"Domestic flights will create a big boost. We're not necessarily going to see the impact of it [the full re-opening] in week one. A lot of things are going to happen. We're going to find our business persons have to go to Nassau. There's going to be a lag. You may see a lag of a week or two before we see the overall impact."
Pointing out that how quickly Exuma businesses are able to access the Budget's $55m MSME financing will "determine in a big way how quickly we get back to some semblance of normality", Mr Rolle added: "I haven't had a hair-cut in two months. I can't wait for Tuesday to come and get a hair cut. We're looking forward to that."