By YOURI KEMP
AN international homebuilder in Abaco has raised concerns over the Special Economic Recovery Zone (SERZ) ending in June as “we need to do whatever we can to get Abaco back on its feet”.
Ian Bishop, head of growth at international homebuilder, Homebound, told Tribune Business that reconstruction post-Dorian continues to be a challenge and companies still need help. “If you look at some of the futures on things like lumber and also appliances and things like that, it’s really difficult to predict what future pricing looks like,” he said.
“One of the advantages that Homebound brings to the table is the scale of our operation. We build in markets all over the world and we have relationships directly with manufacturers and suppliers of building materials. We’ve actually been able to weather the material pricing volatility really well.
“One of the things that was key to bringing scale to the Abaco operation was to start building as many houses as possible and really build a strong link logistically between Florida and Abaco.”
Homebound has been on the ground in Abaco since October, 2019 and Mr Bishop is concerned that the benefits of the Special Economic Recovery Zone (SERZ) - which he called “amazing” – will expire leaving the work they have begun in limbo.
“Marsh Harbour is one of our most important economies in the country, we need to do whatever we can to get it back on its feet,” said Mr Bishop.
The SERZ orders are set to expire at the end of June, something that residents on Abaco, particularly the president of the Abaco Chamber of Commerce, Ken Hutton, have been trying to bring to the attention of the government, so they can have some certainty on their reconstruction efforts.
Sebastian Bethel, general manager of Homebound’s Abaco operations, said he was just in “shock” when he saw the devastation of his home island after Dorian.
He said: “It was just a devastating time and myself with my cousin from Nassau, we were up there three days after the storm as soon as the water allowed us to get there and we started bringing supplies, helping people with things.”
Homebound does not release information on how many homes they have rebuilt in any of their projects, but Mr Bishop said: “We’re working with dozens of homeowners in Abaco.
“They are in all various stages of development.”
Mr Bishop said: “Nobody was prepared for this and this is not uniquely Bahamian, but this is true after every natural disaster. Dorian was worse than anybody ever expected, so in the beginning there was a fair amount of chaos, but that’s to be expected. We had to get the infrastructure in place to enable things to work.
“The port was an issue. It was difficult for them to handle the capacity of things that were coming in, but they have figured it out now.”
Mr Bishop says that as of mid-summer 2020 they had got past all of the logistical hurdles and operational bottlenecks with bringing items into Abaco, despite the COVID-19 pandemic setting in around the same time.