Let me first congratulate Mrs. Joan Albury and her team who are now in their third year of organizing this wonderful and informative business seminar series which has been hosted on the islands of New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera.
Having just signed an agreement for a major development in South Eleuthera last week, it gives me great pleasure to be afforded this opportunity to address the communities of Eleuthera at your Business Outlook on the subject of “Securing Eleuthera through Planning, Partnership and Productivity”.
Let’s start with Planning.
You know, Governments continually engage in a process of planning and do so with the caveat that we cannot plan for today for today is already here. Our planning efforts, therefore, must focus on building a bridge to the future.
Unlike the industrial sector where projects can be operational within 6-12 months, infrastructure, touristic, real estate and other related development projects, which offer a significant return on investment to our local communities, are not normally out of the ground until one or two years following the process of planning, government due diligence and approvals.
In fact, last week’s signing of a Heads of Agreement between the Government and Cotton Bay Holdings & Mine Holdings Limited concludes a twenty year old vision and the determined effort of my Government with the principals of those companies to develop and operate what will become the Four Seasons Resort at Cotton Bay in Rock Sound, Eleuthera, a five-star branded resort.
In terms of tourism development, the economic model of mainland Eleuthera is still evolving. The Ministry of Tourism’s records reveal that with 376 second homes actively engaged in short-term rentals, the islands of Eleuthera and Harbour Island are out paced only by Abaco in the Bahamian home rental market. Of that number, 290 are located on mainland Eleuthera, with seventy-five percent of these homes located in the Settlement of Governor’s Harbour.
Globally, second home rentals have become an important component of the tourism mix and are attracting a strong and loyal following among consumers. Home Away, the global sector’s largest listings company, reported that in 2013 it generated more than US$11 billion in rental revenue for its owners and property managers.
Eleuthera is ideally suited to this new niche product type, many of which, throughout The Bahamas, are Bahamian-owned. In fact, with 28 operating hotels, Eleuthera currently has as much second home room rental inventory as hotel rooms.
When these home rentals are combined with newer resort developments such as the Cove and the Four Seasons, the Shaner Group here in Governor’s Harbour and other locally owned establishments, it will undoubtedly accelerate consumer demand for a plethora of commercial and retail enterprises to service this sector.
There is, even now, a need for more cafes and dining and entertainment venues, sporting facilities, retail shops, food stores, etcetera; all of which deliver the kind of critical mass needed to generate economic activity and satisfy pent-up demand for more vacation experiences from consumers and Eleuthera is, now, certainly poised to provide these kinds of economic opportunities for its young entrepreneurs.
As you may know My Government has launched a comprehensive planning initiative which, through the work of the National Development Plan Committee will undergird reform and expansion of our major sectoral pillars. Some projects have exited the planning cycle and are already bearing fruit in the economy.
In Agriculture, for example, the establishment of the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Institute is meant to generate produce to reduce our food import bill and to provide technical assistance to farmers so that their activities can become more self-sustaining.
In the energy sector we have now confirmed the identity of the new management company that will reform our energy infrastructure, introduce broad-scale renewable energy products in our Family Islands and reduce the cost of generation and distribution for the benefit of households and businesses.
We are working expeditiously to facilitate the move to university status of the College of The Bahamas, and have established a National Training Agency to facilitate work readiness for the youth of Eleuthera as well as the rest of The Bahamas.
Planning for us is not just an academic exercise. There are a number of initiatives which are in various cycles of the planning process or have graduated into programmes launched by the respective government agencies.
The Government will also be embarking on a review of its operations to develop planning mechanisms for greater transparency, and accountability and to improve ease of doing business to restore our image as a competitive business jurisdiction in international circles.
You will also hear more, over the course of the next week or so, on the Government’s continuing plans to implement a series of reforms to improve the quality of life for citizens and residents of The Bahamas. Let’s face it: you constantly hear about the challenges facing the Government and the land mines which erupt when things go wrong; but what you do not hear on a more consistent basis are the successes which are numerous, even in the face of international and economic challenges.
The National Development Plan
I would now like to discuss the Government’s initiatives with respect to the National Development Plan. As many of you would know, late last year, the Government embarked on a technical cooperation programme jointly funded by the Inter-American Development Bank to strengthen my office, The Office of the Prime Minister. In particular, I sought to strengthen my office’s ability to planning for development. Within a few months of signing the agreement with the IDB, my office launched a 25 year National Development Plan process.
The National Development Plan Secretariat is diligently working on a State of the Nation Report which I will present at Independence. The report will highlight where we are as a nation in four key areas: the economy, infrastructure, governance and the public sector and social policy (including education, health and healthcare and poverty).
Next, the Secretariat will launch a series of visioning and strategy workshops to develop the content of the NDP through extensive consultations with the people of The Bahamas throughout the length and breadth of this wonderful country.
In a few short weeks the National Development Plan team will be coming to Eleuthera to begin the discussions on the future that Eleutherans want for themselves and their children.
We know that the Department of Statistics has predicted that by 2040, the population of The Bahamas will growth by 29% to just over 454,000. Currently Eleuthera has just over 8,000 residents and just under 3,000 households. If Eleuthera holds its share of the population, we can then be expecting an Eleuthera of just over 10,000 persons.
We have to plan for this and examine what this means for schools, infrastructure, employment and training needs, health care needs and for Eleuthera’s workforce and economic development and growth.
The government must work with the private sector and civic groups such as One Eleuthera to prepare for a bright future.
And so, I charge each and every one of you in this meeting, to be prepared to contribute to the National Development Plan. Come to the civic engagements or express your thoughts about the direction of the country through the national survey which will be launched in July.
Now let’s talk about Productivity –
Cotton Bay Holdings Ltd and Mine Holdings will generate 200 construction jobs, and, along with the Operator, The Four Seasons, will three hundred permanent staff in the first phase of its operations.
The companies have also agreed to implement training programmes to ensure that the services of both their construction and operations staff meet the international standards of the Four Seasons Hospitality Brand.
The National Training Agency, instituted just two years ago, has successfully piloted skills training for 1500 of the 1780 registrants in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Bimini, Abaco. Just over 900 have been certified by City & Guilds, the London Association of Butlers, the International Institute for Healthcare Professionals Inc., and the National Training Agency Providers.
The Agency recently graduated thirty-three young persons from its programme in Exuma – many of whom have already secured permanent jobs. The National Training Agency is now embarking on a similar exercise in Eleuthera and Ms. Kalin Griffin, Assistant Director of Labour who is coordinating these activities here in Eleuthera, has already received 40 applications for the fourteen week programme of skills training and internships which begin this month.
I am advised that matriculating students ending their first academic year at the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) will be the beneficiaries of paid, six-week internships with numerous companies and industry partners throughout the country. Every effort is being made to place students with companies in their own communities.
In terms of partnerships, my Government will also be working with conservation and heritage interests such as the One Eleuthera Foundation, the National Trust and the Nature Conservancy, to develop and promote the many natural heritage attractions of Eleuthera.
In terms of number of infrastructure works, the Government, within the next budget cycle, will carry out airport upgrades in Eleuthera to IATA standards and advance construction of the mini hospital here in Central Eleuthera. The Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation will provide support in partnership with Eleuthera’s resort development partners to ensure that there is air travel access and the satisfactory delivery and facilitation of passengers to international standards.
Although there is more that I can share, I will reserve those comments for another time as there are other presenters who have also travelled and have important things to say. I can tell you that the needle is moving, albeit slowly, but in the right direction on all fronts and that will be evident to the citizens and residents of Eleuthera and other islands over the next several weeks. I will leave you with the reminder that Eleuthera was once the jewel in the crown of islands in the Bahamas archipelago, and we are determined to see it return to its former status and hope that more of its enterprising young entrepreneurs will participate in its re-birth and assist the government in its efforts to ensure Eleuthera’s future success.