July 24, 2001 – The theme emerging on day one of the two-day Virgin Islands Economic Development Summit could be characterized as much the same as the sentiment after the last V.I. economic development summit, held in March 1999: Swift implementation of a plan -– some plan –- is the key to economic well-being for the territory.
In remarks toward the beginning of the morning session, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen said, "It may be that the crux of our discussion this time around should focus on how we get to the implementation stage where our plans become reality."
Julius Jessup, a member of Sen. Adelbert Bryan's staff, said an action plan was expected to come out of the sessions.
As chair of the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee, which sponsored the summit, Bryan was the prime mover in its planning and the architect of the Draft Sustainable Economic Development Plan, the document used as the focal point of the summit.
Another recurring theme of the day was the need to step up to the technology plate.
Auguste Rimpel, who chairs University of the Virgin Islands board of trustees, said that with access to fiber optics and broad band communications, the territory is in a position to attract new high-tech investment.
Rimpel, a retired senior partner of the investment firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, put in a pitch for UVI's plan to develop a Research Technology Park, saying, "These companies want to deal with a local school."
Christensen said, "All government functions should have already been, but certainly now need to be, fully computerized. Most applications should be accessible by Internet. Not only must our government offices that are required for economic development be Internet accessible to those who need to send or receive information, but we also need to be in a position to access the federal government and private opportunities that are increasingly going online."
The Singapore approach
One presenter, Linda Low, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, was brought from that island state of 4.5 million people to make an hour-long presentation because it, like Japan, Mexico and China, according to the draft plan, has "created highly motivated, educated and experienced workforces."
And how they did it, Low said, was with through process she called slotting. Children were "streamed" at specific stages of development — 9, 15 and again at university level. Streaming is a way of pushing potential workers into a particular slot that needs to be filled for economic growth of the country.
Low said if a young person wanted to go into a profession such as a doctor or lawyer, "We said, 'No. You are going to be an engineer.'"
Was it democracy, she asked rhetorically, then answered, no, but "democracy was a luxury" at the time. "Why did the people go with it? Because people wanted jobs" — and money.
The cost? Low said Singapore now is trying to get people to think for themselves and to be more creative. Loss of creativity appears to be one price it paid for "slotting." The other price paid, she said, was the "loss of culture," with the development of a "flow-through" community — one with a large population of foreign workers brought in to meet staffing needs in the expanding economy.
Amadeo I.D. Francis, director of the Public Finance Authority, spoke about the need to make funding available for small and medium-size businesses. Saying commercial lending institutions don't loan money to businesses that don't have a proven track record or aren't heavily collateralized, he said it is the role of the Government Development Bank to provide such loans to local entrepreneurs. But he said the Government Development Bank has been plagued by a lack of leadership for years and also is bogged down by "long-delinquent loans held by prominent citizens of this territory."
The bank should be an incubator for helping local entrepreneurs, Francis said, as small and medium-sized businesses are the cornerstones of a developing economy.
He also said the local commercial banks did not participate in development of the GDB as they were mandated to do by the Community Reinvestment Act.
As far as the bad debts to the bank, Francis voiced the view that "we should publish the names of the people who owe money."
What the Dominican Republic did
Luncheon speaker Rossy Sanchez, director of planning for the government of the Dominican Republic, who spoke only Spanish and made a Power Point presentation also in Spanish, discussed through a translator the development of her nation since the 1980s.
First, the country had to go from an industrial and agricultural base to a service base, she said.
"The public suffers the most under economic reforms," Sanchez said, adding, "To not do reforms costs more than to do them."
In the Dominican Republic, Sanchez said, dramatic measures taken to improve the economy included devaluing the currency, increasing taxes, decreasing government spending and controlling salaries and prices.
She, like Low, admitted that not all of the programs worked.
The summit was listed on the official legislative calendar as meetings of the Economic Development Committee both days. All committee members were in attendance Tuesday: Bryan and Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Celestino A. White Sr., Emmett Hansen II, Norman Jn Baptiste, Vargrave Richards and Roosevelt David. Other government officials in attendance included Orville Kean, president of UVI; Edward Thomas, president of the West Indian Co.; Ira Mills, Management and Budget director; Joanne Barry, Personnel director; Nadine Marchena, acting Economic Development Commission acting chief executive officer; Monique Sibilly-Hodge, assistant Tourism commissioner, and Sen. Lorraine Berry.
There were few private sector members in attendance, although several showed up in the afternoon, including Joe Aubain, executive director of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce.
After the morning session, Christensen said, "We don't have time for recommending the same things over and over. We need to get a vision and move it."
Another attendee, who asked not to be named, said, "I felt like this was designed for a developing nation that had no ties to the United States."
The summit continues Wednesday at the Divi Carina Bay Resort on St. Croix.


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