Sept, 19, 2001 – Nadine Marchena, acting chief executive officer for the Economic Development Authority, said Tuesday night she is confident the Legislature will give her the $4.07 million she has asked for to run the authority properly.
After the tragic, economically disastrous events of last week, Marchena said, "What senator would not want to fund this program," which many hope will offset some of the expected financial losses in the tourism market after terrorist attacks Sept. 11 on New York and Washington, D.C.
Marchena had asked the Legislature to appropriate the money before the attacks, she said.
The EDA's initiatives in bringing diverse companies to the territory, especially financial management firms, has been credited for an extra $100 million "found" by the government and used to fund, among other things, step increases for government workers.
"If they are serious, they will give us those monies," Marchena said. "If they don't, we won't be able to offer the benefits we've been talking about."
Those benefits include funding and assisting small businesses in the Virgin Islands.
Marchena was speaking to a group of about 18 business owners at an open house held to "continue the dialogue" between EDA staff and the business people it serves. It was the second such event and was called to discuss the newly approved micro-loan program for small businesses and the new small business program.
The Senate appropriated $500,000 from the general fund to finance the loans. Marchena said she had just been told about the new loan program "yesterday or the day before," and did not yet have a process in place for loan applications. However, she said it would be a "low document" process since the program is not federally funded.
The small business program lowers the amount of investment to $20,000 and the number of employees to two in order to be eligible for benefits. In order to qualify for the program, the business must be 50 percent locally owned. "Locally" is defined as being born in the Virgin Islands and living here for five consecutive years or being a resident for 10 consecutive years.
New programs notwithstanding, Marchena repeated what she has said several times in public forums: To carry out the work mandated for the authority, she will need more money and staff. The authority now has 16 employees for both St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Despite funding woes and staff shortages, Marchena reported 72 companies have been processed for benefits or loans this year, leaving eight pending public hearings and eight others awaiting loan approval.
The other good news, she said, is that the EDA — an umbrella agency for the Economic Development Commission, the Government Development Bank, the Small Business Development Agency and the Industrial Park Development Agency — finally has a full board of directors. The board has been meeting at least every two weeks, sometimes until midnight, to clean up the backlog of applications for economic development benefits and loans, she said.
The board members are Dean Plaskett, Planning and Natural Resources commissioner, chair; Kent Bernier, the governor's adviser on fiscal affairs; Willis Todman of the Government Employees Retirement System; Louis Willis, Internal Revenue Service director; and Randolph Allen, Malcolm Plaskett and former Sen. Mary Ann Pickard, who serve on behalf of the private sector.
The open house was held on St. Thomas at the Palms Court Harborview Hotel.


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