V.I. anti-business policies, procedures and practices have far-reaching negative results - but can be changed
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Are there any opportunities for starting a new business in the USVI? What resources do we have other than sun, wind and oceans that would entice potential investors to start or relocate their business to our islands? Are the incentives the Economic Development program provides good enough to pack up and relocate here?
Let's take a closer look at the product "U.S. Virgin Islands." Everybody in our business community has experienced that our administration and its bureaucracy is, and has been for many years, anything but friendly and accommodating to the same businesses it wants to attract. A perfect example occurred when the V.I. government almost ran off our islands by charging unsustainable fees and taxes on boat owners, who consequently packed up and took their business and customers to the British Virgin Islands. This move affected the entire marine industry including boat yards, engine maintenance, supply stores and provisioning retailers.
Our retailers and other small businesses are leaving our islands one by one. There are many reasons for their decision, not least of which are our crime rates and utility bills.
Our government is so focused on our cruse ship visitors arriving on our shores on ever-larger ships but keeps forgetting that quantity is not necessarily quality. Just to the contrary: Now we have more visitors who spend less money on the islands. The net effect is congestion and damage to our roads and less time for them on shore.
What has all of this to do with potential entrepreneurs that our government wants to attract to set up shop on our islands? A lot. Vacationing on our islands and living everyday life here are as different as day and night. Our new entrepreneurs and their spouses and children will soon find out what they got themselves into: poor roads; poor schools; poor quality and expensive groceries; long wait lines to renew a driver's license, pay taxes or have any other encounter with a government office; high cost for energy or gasoline; plus a high crime rate.
After the sun and the beaches are no longer attractions, the newcomers will soon learn that they did not come to the "American Paradise." They will find out that we are a society of litterers who cannot keep our islands clean. I have met quite a few people who were transferred with their families to the USVI, enticed by the financial benefits the EDC program had to offer, but whose spouses decided to return to the United States with their children.
Which brings me back to my opinion that entrepreneurship starts with the government. Besides natural resources, our islands produce a wealth of man-made garbage. While the rest of the civilized world has discovered that most trash can be recycled and turned into useful products, we chose to pile it up to create mountains of it. For many years, several knowledgeable environmental groups have tried to convince our administration to turn our trash into profit but have never succeeded. It seems to be a no-brainer that should be very attractive, but it never got far in the V.I. government.
What seems to be the problem is the numbers. If we add up all the plastic containers, soda and beer cans, glass bottles and paper we discard every day, and if we then turn them into a recyclable commodity by separating them from each other, we can end up with valuable commodities, and some could be converted into final products we use on our islands every day. Most of the remaining bio-degradable refuse can be turned into fertilizer, etc. My car required about four tire changes over the last eight years, and I make a bet that all tire sets are still on island. They could be recycled and turned into a useful product.
What I am trying to say is that just about every ton of packaged product imported to our islands has an intrinsic value and can be turned into something else we could use here or could sell as a commodity. It has the potential to create a cottage industry for products "Made in the USVI."
The only issue is that our government would have is to educate our citizens and enforce a mandatory requirement for recycling. Again, this is a no brainer.
I just wanted to share a possible solution for our never-ending garbage problem. I am convinced that if we cut the government red tape to a minimum, we can turn our trash into profit and attract some islanders to invest into this kind of a project. Keep in mind that these ideas have been done over and over again and do not have to be reinvented as long as we keep the government at arm's length.
- Andreas Tietje, St. Thomas