Official Statement: Sen. Hon. J. Kwasi Thompson, Minister of State for Finance Grand Bahama Business Outlook Virtual Conference
Kwasi Thompson, Minister of State for Finance
Grand Bahama Business Outlook Virtual Conference, April 29, 2021
Ladies & gentlemen,
I am honoured and excited to once again participate in this dynamic forum. Over the last 20+ years, The Grand Bahama Business Outlook has become a much anticipated annual event among the island’s business community. Continuing open dialogue between various industry leaders, public sector leaders, as well as small businesses, is vital to ensuring the necessary growth and development of Grand Bahama’s economy despite the challenges we face as an island and nation.
To say that the challenges of the last two years have been unprecedented would be an understatement. 2019’s Hurricane Dorian brought catastrophic damage to The Bahamas - Grand Bahama and Abaco specifically. The category 5 storm severely damaged infrastructure, homes, and businesses and sadly claimed the lives of people we love. Just when we had started to pick up the pieces, the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to our shores, changing life as we know it once again.
Fortunately, today, we can renew our faith and hold firm to our belief in Grand Bahama, because we are at a major turning point on our difficult road to recovery. It took many months to complete critical public works projects that were essential for the recovery. It took many months to complete delicate negotiations on significant projects that were central to the recovery. Understandably some frustration and skepticism may have crept in during the wait, but I am here to reassure you that Grand Bahama’s recovery is set to take flight.
In the past few days and weeks, we have witnessed the first phase of refurbishment of the Rand Memorial Hospital completed; the sale agreement for the Grand Bahama Airport signed; the initial construction and employment for the Western Atlantic University School of Medicine started, and the launch of the homeporting facility for Royal Caribbean moving forward. Each of these projects, and the many others underway, have set the foundation for Grand Bahama’s recovery to take flight. We now have tangible signs of this; elements that we can see and experience first-hand which will serve as the footing for continued improvement.
East Grand Bahama Solar Light Project and East Grand Bahama Renewable Energy Project.
Today, I am pleased to announce a significant project set for East End Grand Bahama that is part of the Reconstruction with Resilience in the Energy Sector in The Bahamas IDB Loan Program being spearheaded by the Ministry of Finance. Under this project, we will be engaged in numerous capital works throughout various parts of East Grand Bahama to provide improved and more resilient renewable energy infrastructure. The East Grand Bahama Renewable Energy Project will invest approximately $4.9 million to install microgrids across communities in East Grand Bahama.
Microgrids will allow this area to be powered by renewable energy while running independently from the main power grid. Solar-powered energy will be used to reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels while simultaneously minimizing the impact on our environment. The isolation feature will become particularly useful in the event of future natural disasters as the microgrids can separate themselves from areas experiencing complications meaning power can still be provided to those in unaffected areas.
The installation of these microgrids will begin later this year and continue into 2022. I am advised that Phase 1 begins in September starting with Sweeting’s Cay and McLean’s Town, which will also facilitate power distribution to neighboring cays and Pelican Point. November will see Phase 2 with installations occurring in Free Town and in High Rock, which will also provide power to Rocky Creek.
In East Grand Bahama, the government has already begun its Solar Street Lighting Project. Solar lights will be installed on poles to provide much-needed lighting for residents of McClean’s Town, Sweetings Cay, Pelican Point, High Rock, Freetown, and Water Cay. The work is estimated to be completed within 2 months. Some 8 to 10 persons will be directly employed on the project. Additional work will be provided through sub-contractors. It is anticipated that this system will be a model for every Bahamian community.
The McClean’s Town Administrative complex which sits as a gateway between Sweetings Cay, Deep Water Cay, and Abaco, and which houses the Royal Bahamas Police Force, ferry operators, and other government agencies, has been completely refurbished and is now operational. The government has arranged for all of the displaced agencies to return.
RAND Memorial Hospital Expansion Project
Enhancements to public works are taking place across the island. We have completed the Fishing Hole Road Bridge, the $2 million refurbishments to the Supreme Court Building, the Smith’s Point Sea Wall, $4.5 million worth of renovation projects on 15 schools, renovations to the Ministry of Agriculture, and $6 million in road works. Repairs to the Freeport Post Office are also nearing completion. Yet naturally, public health infrastructure took priority. Some $21 million has been expended on the refurbishment of the Rand Memorial Hospital and phase one is now complete. Last week we commissioned a new pharmacy, Children's Ward, Medical and Surgical Wards, ICU, Maternity Ward, Neonatal ICU, Infectious Disease Ward, operating theater, offices, chapel, and cafeteria. The Hospital also has a brand new water system that is separate from the city water. It is now self-sufficient with electricity and water in the event of a disaster. The Prime Minister also announced plans for a new four-story expansion of the Rand Hospital and a contract has already been signed with the Beck Group to design this expansion.
Additionally, the newly built High Rock Clinic is equipped with isolation capacity, dental facilities, a staff facility to accommodate on-call staff as well as patient observation. The Clinic also comprises emergency redundancy, solar power, generators, and an emergency freshwater system. I am also pleased to report that the Government Clinic in McClean’s Town which was destroyed by Dorian has now been completely restored and outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment including solar panels which were designed and installed to augment the power supply and reduce electricity costs.
These projects are in alignment with the government’s commitment to ensure accessible, resilient, and quality healthcare to residents of Grand Bahama.
Grand Bahama Airport Acquisition
Ladies and gentlemen,
In addition to the refurbishment of the hospital, another long-awaited recovery priority has been the Grand Bahama Airport which too succumbed to costly damages during Hurricane Dorian. Today I am pleased to announce that at noon, the Government will sign the Purchase Share Agreement with Hutchenson to transfer the Grand Bahama International Airport to the Government. We can all look toward the construction of a world-class facility that can withstand major storm conditions in the future, and return commercial traffic to the island. The airport will be redeveloped and operated under a new management agreement structure similar to the successful model operating at the Lynden Pindling International Airport. In addition to the main airport reconstruction, the government has committed to spending a further $1.5 million to repair supporting transportation infrastructures such as the Air Traffic Control Building, office space in the old domestic terminal, and the current cargo building.
Grand Bahama Small Business Assistance
A further component of building a foundation for the island’s recovery has been the establishment and development of small businesses. The government has reinforced its commitment to this sector, recognizing that they are, in fact, the economic heart of our communities. The success of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) keeps our islands alive. To use the Bahamian vernacular, “mom-and-pop shops” help to keep food on the table and children in school for many Bahamian families.
It is in this vein that this government has prioritized initiatives to empower small business owners through the Small Business Development Center’s Access Accelerator.
The Government has allocated some $50 million for the SBDC this Budget Year alone. To date some 192 businesses in Grand Bahama have benefited, representing a total of $1.8 million being injected into MSMEs.
More and more businesses have begun to shift to technology and digital-based services. Lessons from Hurricane Dorian as well as the unprecedented onset of the pandemic made this shift almost a necessity for our local businesses. The government has taken the position to encourage businesses to continue this trend as we aim to digitize our services and improve the ease of doing business and efficiency in our country.
Royal Caribbean Home Porting
The government is partnering to lay a new foundation for the recovery at our seaports as well. After months of dormancy due to the pandemic, Royal Caribbean will begin homeporting in The Bahamas. The decision to base the Adventure of the Seas in Nassau as the starting point for a seven-night round-trip that calls on Coco Cay private island and Grand Bahama has the potential for a significant economic boost to the island.
Royal Caribbean recently held an important webinar for Grand Bahama businesses to inform them of the opportunities homeporting will bring. The ships will be provisioning in Grand Bahama and will be purchasing many items from our local stores. This provides opportunities for warehousing, logistics, additional employees, grocery stores, farmers, and fishers. Post-COVID planning is already underway to reestablish interest in the unique experiences offered in Grand Bahama including scuba diving at popular shark diving locations Tiger Beach and Shark Junction, fishing, bird watching, beaching, and events. New strategies are also in the works to designate attraction hubs, such as Smith’s Point Fish Fry for food experiences. Each hub will bring its own flavor to the mix of Grand Bahama experiences.
I also wish to provide an update on the Grand Lucayan Hotel and Cruise Port deal. I am pleased to report that Hutchenson and RCCL/ITM Group have reported progress in their agreement to create a new cruise port. The Government is also working to finalize the hotel portion. We are all working toward the full turnover of the hotel and the commencement of this major project. We are also moving ahead with the Carnival Cruise port deal and will continue to work with the Carnival Corporation to bring it to fruition.
Grand Bahama Investments Projects
Aside from its tourism industry, Grand Bahama by design has always had the capacity for immense development and population growth. Our island is certainly still open for business and we are thrilled to continue to welcome investors.
The government set out to strengthen medical tourism as well as tertiary education tourism in Grand Bahama, both of which are anticipated to receive a significant boost through Western Atlantic. Western Atlantic University School of Medicine Ltd plans to operate a School of Medicine in Grand Bahamas where students can earn a Doctor of Medicine Degree. This concept is not unknown to the city of Freeport as it follows the Ross University model. Western Atlantic University will offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs targeting individuals seeking to practice medicine in the United States, Canada, and other countries.
I am advised that the project will inject $115 million into the economy over the next four years. Initial construction for the first phase of the project has already begun and is expected to be completed by December of this year. The entire development, which will stretch across 50 acres, is scheduled for completion in mid-2024.
This project will, directly and indirectly, provide jobs and economic activity to Grand Bahama. Some 100 construction jobs will be made available to Bahamians in both the first and second phases, as well as 200 construction jobs during the larger third phase. Further, by 2022, it is expected that approximately 200 students will be present on campus, inevitably adding to the economy in areas such as housing, retail, dining, and much more. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to 500 students and by 2030, some 1000 students based right here in Grand Bahama to study.
This is indeed a very exciting project for Grand Bahama. It shows that our island is still a prized place to invest; that beneath the rubble, the rare gem still shines through.
The same can be said about the Weller Development, or “Discovery Bay Project”, which will also assist in revitalizing the island’s economy. The Government has now approved the mixed-use development which is slated to include a small format marina, retail pavilions, for-rent villas, and for-sale estates. The total capital investment planned is approximately $130 million with a projection of creating approximately 100 local jobs.
Doctors Hospital Cleveland Clinic Project
Adding to the growing list of non-traditional investor projects coming to Grand Bahama is Doctors Hospital’s flagship facility, a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic. In January of this year, Doctors Hospital announced it had formed a strategic advisory council with the renowned Cleveland Clinic to broaden its scope of healthcare services and enhance delivery throughout the country. A new facility, planned for 2022, is slated for construction in Grand Bahama. It is expected to be Doctor’s Hospital’s most advanced. It will take its place as a center of excellence in the Cleveland Clinic network.