While progress has been made in economically restoring the island of Grand Bahama, there is still a lot of work to be done, said Minister of State for Grand Bahama in the Office of the Prime Minister, Senator the Hon. J. Kwasi Thompson on Thursday, May 10. Minister Thompson was addressing the performance of the government on their first anniversary of winning the government, having defeated the Progressive Liberal Party at the polls in May 2017. With all five seats in Grand Bahama represented by the governing Free National Movement, the island now has the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. K. Peter Turnquest (MP for East Grand Bahama); Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, the Hon. Michael Pintard (MP for Marco City); Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Work, Iram Lewis (MP for Central Grand Bahama); Parliamentary Secretary of Information and Communication in the Office of the Prime Minister, Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe (MP for West Grand Bahama and Bimini); and Chairman of the Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas, Rev. Frederick McAlpine (MP for Pineridge).
Minister Thompson said, “To describe the one year in government for Grand Bahama — we have made significant progress, however, there is a lot more work to be done. I believe that throughout this year, there has been a lot of progress on a number of fronts and in a number of areas, however, there is much more work to be done in those areas.” He mentioned the problem of youth unemployment that the island is faced with, explaining that the government continued some of the initiatives, expanded some and created some of their own to ensure that youth unemployment was focused upon. Listing some of the programmes, he mentioned: the MSC programme, where 17 Bahamians have been trained to work on MSC cruise ships; the summer job programme, where over 500 young people were employed, being assisted with not only funding but on the job experience as well; and the nursing programme, in which approximately 20 nurses were trained. Additionally, the repair of the softball park, as well as the track at the Grand Bahama Sports Complex were among successes listed.
According to the Department of Statistics, said Minister Thompson, from May 2017 to November 2017 unemployment in Grand Bahama went from 12.4 to 12.1. Although the numbers are not great, he added, they are going in the right direction in that 1,080 more people were employed in Grand Bahama. Entrepreneurship was another area of focus, in which small businesses were given assistance and provided with financial advisement. The Business to Business Workshop was started and succeeded in bringing large and small companies together so that all participants could be informed of future and existing opportunities. The ease of doing business was another area of focus. The Minister said that a report from the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) indicates that the increase in business applications from January to present, has been more than in the previous eight years. “That really goes to show that there is a significant increase in the confidence that investors have in Grand Bahama during this period of time.” An Investment Unit is currently being created, he continued, and regular meetings are being held with the GBPA so that when investors come in, they are walked through the process.
Turning his attention to the tourism market, Minister Thompson said there is an added cruise ship from Bahamas Paradise Cruises coming to Grand Bahama from West Palm Beach daily with the introduction of the Grand Classica, which now joins the Grand Celebration. Sunwing will provide additional flights to the island and starting this month, through Vacation Express, flights will come from Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Newark, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Dallas. These flights, he added, will bring an additional 16,000 air passengers according to the Ministry of Tourism. The government has also approved in principle the Grand Palm Beach Acquisitions Company initiative, a $2.8 million investment for West End, the old Ginn Project. The government is currently negotiating a Heads of Agreement with the new owners. “We have also continued negotiations for Grand Lucayan. This is a significant project for Grand Bahama and really is the signature project for Grand Bahama. Significant progress has been made. We genuinely had hoped that this would have been completed before this time, and did all within our power to have this deal completed. “We’ve made progress; we’ve made significant progress on the deal. As we indicated, it’s not just about purchasing a hotel. But it is really about creating a new and unique destination for Grand Bahama. For too long, all we’ve been focused on is bringing in a new hotel and we believe that this is going to assist: we need to ensure that we have a destination and one that is unique from the rest of The Bahamas. That is what we’ve been focused on.”
Minister Thompson added that there were a number of issues that needed to be resolved namely how many employees would be on the property and how many of them would be Bahamian. Other areas included entertainment, concessions that might be granted, subsidies, and the name brand on the property. “I believe we are in the final stages of that negotiation process and we believe that shortly we should have a signed deal and the renovations will begin shortly. Rest assured, we are committed, all of the members of Parliament are committed that the project moves forward and ensures that we have significant employment levels at that project.” A new initiative, the technology hub, has also been the main focus. As a result of the summit held in November, as well as the creation of the Technology Hub Steering Committee, whose plans have been submitted to Cabinet, a major venture conference which will be held in June of this year. There were also trips where discussions were held with major technology companies. This, he said, resulted in a major conference that will be held in The Bahamas in 2019, bringing some 1,000 people. The year ended on a positive note, he added, with the introduction of GIBC Digital, a company that has offices all over the world, and is currently vetting applicants to train and employ in Grand Bahama. They will be spending some $2.5 million on the project and have indicated that their overall investment will be in the area of $50 million.
Another new initiative is the Apiculture programme in which 24 young people were trained in honey production. They have established their companies and produce honey, soaps, and candles, all made from honey in Grand Bahama. The Minister mentioned existing businesses that have expanded or will be doing so shortly, and major companies from Nassau that will expand to Grand Bahama, including a Bahamian-owned major food store which plans a multi-million dollar development on the island. “So, there has been progress, but there is still significant work that we must do,” said Minister Thompson. Also present for the press conference were: Minister Pintard, Mr. Lewis, and Mrs. Parker-Edgecombe. Minister Turnquest was in Nassau and Rev. McAlpine was also off the island.