GBPA focused on strategic partnerships
"Concerted efforts between the private and governmental sectors are vital for Freeport's economic success. Grand Bahama Island is now at a crossroad where new investments must be made to secure our future as a major player in the global arena," stated Ian Fair, Chairman, The Grand Bahama Port Authority, Limited (GBPA).
Fair was commenting on the importance placed by GBPA on government/private sector relationships, especially in light of the formation of a new Ministry for Grand Bahama with whom the Port Authority has already begun working in tandem with since its inception post-May elections.
"We have already conducted productive meetings with the new Minister for Grand Bahama and other key stakeholders regarding opportunities for Grand Bahama," Fair noted. "We expect that as a result of these collective efforts, a positive effect will be felt on the Grand Bahama economy over the next 12 months."
Competing destinations use many different strategies to attract investors. Yet the most common approach is through specialized marketing efforts. To this end, it is noteworthy that GBPA has made a significant financial contribution towards the sponsorship of the upcoming Commonwealth Business Conference slated to be held in February 2013. This joint venture with the government is only one of many planned. In addition, we have spearheaded joint trade missions to Panama in January 2013 and Brazil in March 2013, which are expected to bring additional business. The government is fully supportive of these initiatives.
According to Fair, "With regards to the next 12 months and beyond, key stakeholders (inclusive of GBPA and Government) have agreed to target specific entities and industries as a collective unit as we travel to various international venues."
Outlining the various objectives behind these endeavours, Fair revealed their aim. "Obviously our goal is to inform new targeted investors of the island's advantages as an investment site. We also seek to nurture the existing investor base by assisting companies to overcome any impediments to increasing their existing investment," he added.
With respect to the establishment of a new $85 million state-of-the-art power plant facility, Grand Bahama now boasts of having the best electrical infrastructure in the country, with its equipment having the ability to easily convert from diesel fuel to compressed natural gas. Such capabilities bode well for the production of cost efficient, reliable electrical supply which are necessities for the future of any business and the general consumer.
Beyond this, GBPA has been diligent in its efforts to identify niche markets that do not depend heavily on challenging electrical costs. "Our efforts continue to remain sustained despite regional and world challenges," Fair surmised. "And we will be meeting with a number of European entities over the next few days in this regard."
Grand Bahama's tourism landscape is another important pursuit requiring strategic partnerships. Following on the heels of a successful inaugural "Tourism Opportunity, Awareness and Training' seminar (held in conjunction with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, Freeport Harbour Company and Ministry of Tourism) key stakeholders (including GBPA) have met with various entities in an attempt to increase tour capacity on our island, which would lead to greater numbers departing the cruise ships, increased number of ships making Freeport a port of call, and a variety of vacation experiences not only for cruise but stopover visitors as well.
GBPA's commitment to the development and support of the tourism sector can also be seen in joint ventures along with Hutchison Whampoa in expansions at the Freeport Harbour and both international and domestic terminals, as well as the construction of a new fixed based operation at the Grand Bahama Airport. Both entities, which operate according to world-class standards, are privately owned and completely funded by non-governmental contributions. Fair emphasized, "The healthy and constructive relationship that we have with Hutchison, who have invested more than $1billion in Freeport, has allowed us to work hand-in-hand to progress Freeport, in spite of the economic challenges faced."
"Furthermore, the government, GBPA and Hutchison are working towards a tourism related project that would have significant impact on the Grand Bahama economy and stopover visitors," he revealed. Also, discussions pertaining to a new cruise port continue, with GBPA endorsing the development of such an entity, and continuing to lend its support to such a project.
For over 10 years, GBPA has promoted the international trade city concept, and welcomes a project of this kind to our island. In late 201, a team visited Yiwu, upon the invitation of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China to promote the extension of the Yiwu International Trade City to Freeport. There is a challenge, however, with being able to raise more than $200m in this economic environment. Nonetheless, this 'game-changing' project is being progressed in tandem with the Embassy of the People's Republic of China.
"We should not discount the fact that many countries in the world, including The Bahamas, have been significantly affected by the worst recession, since the 1930s, as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis. Many Devco-related projects became casualties of this crisis. Nevertheless, over the past five years, GBPA, in conjunction with its joint venture partners, injected more than $100m in infrastructural improvements at the ports of entry, the Down Town Turnaround Project, new road enhancement, a new Arts & Craft Centre, and ongoing scholarship and donations programs. Fair stated, "During this difficult period, virtually no individuals or businesses were spending any money or making any significant investment either in their home country or overseas. Had we undertaken any significant amount of marketing, the results would not have been meaningful."
However, during this period, initiatives were developed to focus on local investors and small businesses through various incentives and waivers offered to strengthen and expand the domestic market, and to encourage business success and long-term sustainability.
Whilst there have been many businesses that have closed their doors during these tough economic times, some of these locations have been reopened with improved products and services, such as the recent opening of Solomon's at the Seahorse Shopping Plaza. This $4m investment has created 60 jobs and is a testament to Bahamian investor confidence in Freeport. The opening of the Circle Mall that caused the creation of 150 jobs is also a significant investment that gives Grand Bahama Island its first indoor mall and food court.
The Freeport Container Port has been ready, hungrily waiting, and is on the cusp of taking advantage of its location at the Freeport Harbour. The harbour, with its depth of 16 meters, allows for the largest post-panamax ships in the world to be docked. This gives the Freeport Container Port a significant head start with the completion of the Panama Canal expansion in 2014.
As for new projects, the new fixed based operation at the Grand Bahama International Airport is scheduled to open at the end of October, and will herald in a convenient, high-end passenger experience. Senor Frogs, owned and operated by the largest and most successful chain of restaurants in Mexico, is scheduled to open in November 2012, creating 30 jobs, and Sparky's at the Lucayan Harbour opened this summer with 20 employees.
"The economic future of our island is at stake," Fair reiterated. "However, through strategic partnerships with the government, NGO's and our licencees we remain true to our mission to better the lives of the Grand Bahama community, and by extension The Bahamas, through the unique features offered by our island."
© 2012 The Freeport News