Jan 18, 2005 – Members of the senate minority caucus have been maintaining a high profile in the community. For many of the members the meeting with the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce and Team St. Croix on Tuesday night at the Curriculum Center was the third time since the election that they have made presentations and taken questions in an open format.
Both sides Sen. Roosevelt David, minority leader, and Sam Baptiste of Team St. Croix – expressed appreciation for the forum and acknowledged that the government and the private sector were going to have work together to cure the problems on St. Croix.
One setback for the format was the program scheduled to start at 5:30 did not get started until 6 p.m. Baptiste said it was Team St. Croix's intention to get every event started on time. Team St. Croix is an umbrella organization for over a dozen community organizations on St. Croix. (See "Coalition Asks Candidates to Sign St. Croix Pledge").
The program started with former Sen. David Jones giving an overview of the V.I. economy. He said the V.I. economy was top heavy with government institutions and that needed to change to private business dominating. He said the minority caucus would have to work so the V.I. government could climb out of debt and start injecting in the local economy the $80 million he estimated the government was now spending each year on debt service.
Jones emphasized some programs that were put in place while he was in the Senate. He talked about a micro-credit program where small businesses could get $25,000 in loans at 5 percent interest. He said 35 St. Croix businesses had taken part in the program and used $375,000 of $1.5 million available.
Baptiste said he had participated in that program and that it was far from perfect. He said it was being stifled by bureaucracy. He said he needed a check from the government to save some money, but the check could not be delivered because the person on St. Thomas who had to sign it was sick.
The centerpiece of the meeting was a presentation by Anthony Weeks, of Columbia Equity, concerning a possible stock exchange in the Virgin Islands. Weeks, who is a native of St. Croix, has worked most his life on the mainland.
He said the electronic exchange could resolve problems arising from new Congressional rules concerning source income for Economic Development Companies. He compared the potential to that experienced in Cayman Islands and Bermuda with their exchanges. He said for traders who want their action "offshore," the Virgin Islands could enter into an agreement with the British Virgin Islands.
He said, "This train has already left the station. There is no question about can we do it? We can do it."
He said the exchange could ignite "a new economic revolution on St. Croix."
He said that he was planning on finding ways within the next year to implement the exchange.
Jones also saw something in the future. He said he hoped to see groundbreaking for the Golden Resorts by April. (See "Golden Resorts Gets Permission to Build at Great Pond").
Sen. Craig Barshinger talked about his plan to encourage cruise ships to St. Croix. He said he had been planning on introducing legislation requiring cruise lines using St. Thomas to also make some stops on St. Croix. He admitted that he had received a lot of criticism for that plan. He said, "OK, let's not use that plan. Let's put in our back pocket. Let's just make St. Croix so attractive that the cruise lines want to come here."
Noel Loftus, a member of the chamber, asked what the minority would do about getting private industry involved in attracting tourists.
Sen. Neville James mentioned a meeting that senators had with cruise lines representatives last week and the representatives told the senators that private businesses had to get involved. James said, "We don't have any choice, we have to get you involved."
Baptiste asked the senators to look at Team St. Croix's agenda and challenged the senators to make five of the items happen. (See "Team St. Croix, Senators Agree, But Without Contract").He said, "We don't want to see the minority and the majority caught up in things that don't matter."
David responded that the minority was already working on several items presented in Team St. Croix's agenda. "I think we will accomplish your five things."
Audience member Renny Roker asked Team St. Croix and the senators to focus on helping the sports and entertainment industries on St. Croix. He said, "We have brought millions of dollars to the economy." He asked if the government had explored the possibility of bringing a major league baseball team to the Virgin Islands.
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said he was challenging private investors to come forward and help build a sports complex on St. Croix so the island could "become the Mecca of sports in the Caribbean."
He added that the demographics of the island were such that no major league team would ever come here. However, Serville, who was once a major league prospect and said he loved baseball as much as anyone in the room, said he was working on a partnership with Puerto Rico to bring a baseball academy to St. Croix.
Onedia Granger,counselor at Education Complex High School said, "The first thing we need to do is employ our youth." She said about 700 students would be graduating this June and 200 would leave the island to further their education.
She said she recognizes the names of the perpetrators and the victims in the media accounts of crime on St. Croix. She said those names belong to the youths who can't find jobs.
David said the Committee on Economic Development would be meeting in Frederiksted in a couple of weeks and the focus would be on jobs.
Also attending Tuesday's meeting, but not mentioned above, were Sens. Ronald Russell and Pedro"Pete"Encarnacion, members of the minority, and Elton Lewis, police commissioner. Fifty-eight people were in the listening audience.
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