Sept. 8, 2001 – The Virgin Islands' tropical Caribbean locale, which bewitched Christopher Columbus centuries ago and continues to nurture its tourist industry today, can attract another industry which could be the key to the territory's economic survival tomorrow.
Dr. Orville Kean, University of the Virgin Islands president, told a St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce luncheon gathering Friday that UVI has a vision which could make the V.I. the nexus of international telecommunications.
Addressing the group at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center, which was the scene of the 2001 Chamber Business Expo Friday and Saturday, Kean spoke of UVI's plans for a research and technology park — plans which he said have been in the works for more than two years.
In partnership with the global telecommunications companies already enticed to the Virgin Islands' shores, Kean said, UVI envisions the development of a world-class, mixed-use park and "incubator facility" that will spur economic development. He said there would actually be two parks, one on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix, with the "initial thrust on St. Croix."
Most mainland states as well as the nations of Europe and Asia recognize that higher education is the key to economic success, Kean said, and to this end they have begun to pump significant resources into public institutions in the areas of technology, entrepreneurial training and research and development parks.
He said the word "park" could be misleading, as a part of it exists in cyberspace — it's virtual. The key components of the research and technology park, he said, are:
– A web-hosting segment enabling e-commerce businesses to have a virtual presence in the park.
– A business component, creating a home base for software development and knowledge-based companies.
– An incubator facility to enable individuals with business ideas to convert them into viable operations.
– A network of job training activities, including degree programs, student internships, work force training and school-to-work programs.
The park will engender a strong partnering of UVI, industry and government to create information-age opportunities, Kean said, creating a "special synergy" to accommodate pollution-free development that won't overtax the local infrastructure.
A major attraction of the park, in Kean's eyes, is the opportunity it offers students, and other Virgin Islanders, for high-paying, challenging careers within the territory.
The first steps essential to development of the park, he said, are the passage of legislation and the establishing of a legal framework of tax incentives. Others are the securing of reliable, cost-effective broad-band connectivity and power, and the assurance of a business-friendly environment with government backing.
UVI believes, Kean said, that the tax incentives now offered to businesses can effectively be employed by the park to generate tangible benefits for the territory. He said investment in buildings and infrastructure is projected to exceed $7.5 million in the next four years, generating at least 240 high-technology jobs. The number of jobs would reach 1,750 over 10 to 15 years, he said, and the park would grow to occupy some 320,000 square feet over a 20-year period.
In dollar terms, Kean said, by its fourth year, the park would generate almost $18 million a year in payrolls, which would generate $3.5 million in personal income taxes. He said the government would derive additional revenue from franchise taxes, license fees and other corporate taxes.
"Cybersuites" for conducting e-commerce will offer the territory a lucrative way to replace the lost revenue from foreign sales corporations, Kean said. FSC's were outlawed nationally this year, costing the Virgin Islands millions of dollars annually.
Kean emphasized his belief that any economic plan for the territory should include the park as its main vehicle for building a high-tech economy. And he said it could become a reality within two years.
His message was well received by the audience, which included the chamber president, John de Jongh Jr.; UVI faculty and board members; and a cross-section of the business community including Tom Brunt of MSI Building Supplies, Adriane Dudley of Dudley Clark and Chan Attorneys, Mary Gleason of Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Resort; and Claudia LaBorde of AT&T.
Dudley asked Kean what sorts of businesses had expressed interest in the park. He declined to name names but said, "There are partners waiting, software and product-development companies."
Kean announced earlier this year that he will retire next fall after more than 30 years in higher education, all of them at the College / University of the Virgin Islands and 12 of them as its president.
Hesitant on Friday to say what he feels proudest about as president, he gazed around the new Sports and Fitness Center. "This certainly is an accomplishment," he said, "but it illustrates what we have done — turning adversity into opportunity."
The center sits on the site — in fact, on the foundation — of the old UVI field house, a relic from the mid-1900s Navy presence on the island and a casualty of Hurricane Marilyn. Also in the aftermath of the hurricane, Kean said, "We've rebuilt the greathouse on the St. Croix campus, restored its physical and architectural beauty, put in a new cafeteria. On St. Thomas, we have put in a new dorm and a water-production plant. And we've done this in spite of underfunding in our government allotments."
So, his pride, he says, is in "when something goes wrong, turning it into an opportunity, and adding a new measure of respect and recognition to the school."
And after retirement, Kean said, "No, I'm not going to write my memoirs. I'm going to spend time with my wife and parents and grandchildren, do some landscaping, reading. What I'm going to do is enjoy being free from the embrace of the clock."
Pondering the future a little further, he added with a satisfied expression, "And I'll be able to retire while I'm at the top of my game."


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