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(THE SUN TCI) – The Turks and Caicos Islands is about to experience the biggest investment and construction boom in the history of these islands, according to the Premier Hon. Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson.
In an exclusive interview with The SUN, the Premier said a significant number of jobs and opportunities will be created as a result of this boom which is expected to last for a number of years.
“The economy is strong and even today I had meetings with two good investors who are fully financing their projects and we continue to have a number of investors who are flying here, so we expect a construction boom,” Premier Robinson said. “We expect a groundbreaking in July, we expect another one in September and we expect another major announcement soon in Providenciales.”
The Premier could not quantify the cost of inward investment but noted that the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands will be very pleased with the high-end brands that are coming.
In response to a question from this newspaper, the Premier said the expected construction and investment boom will be greater than what was experienced during the last such peak period under a former Progressive National Party (PNP) administration when the Turks and Caicos Islands earned the distinction of being the fastest growing economy in the Caribbean.
“It’s very busy and I am pretty sure that it will be busier than back then,” she said. “This year alone we have a number of ground breakings that we expect and you would notice with me that even with Government projects I do cornerstone laying. So I have developers who are ready to go and say listen we want our detailed permission/our land permission before we even make an announcement because I don’t do false starts. The construction boom that is where we expect it, there is a lot of real tangible projects on the table and is moving and we’re looking at at least three more groundbreakings for big projects,” she added. “We’re poised to do well and I am very optimistic but cautiously optimistic, because when you have the announcement of public registers, when you have the possibility of a more active hurricane season, anything that deters our flights and stops our tourism product is of concern.”
When asked by The SUN what is happening with Grand Turk and South Caicos in regards to construction, she said: “That is the problem with multi-island chains. For example, you would see Nassau and Freeport moving ahead of all of the islands (in The Bahamas). Investors choose where they want to go, but it is for Government to put policies and initiatives in place to encourage them to want to go elsewhere. But when someone comes to the table and says that I want to go where the infrastructure/market is and I don’t want the extra headache of transporting materials or having to have their guests go another way and take another flight, that’s the challenge.”
However, Robinson revealed that under the new investment policy statement that she will be introducing soon to the public speaks more to particular type of projects for islands outside of Providenciales.
“We heard of shovel-ready like Invest TC where persons present their projects, so we want to do shovel-ready; for example we want a nice high-end dive resort for Grand Turk and we want a nice wellness type resort for Middle Caicos, but all of these islands we don’t want to develop like Providenciales, but you’re looking for an anchor project. You want to be able as a Government under this new investment policy statement to be able to present a full project with approvals to a developer who doesn’t want to go through all of that headache,” she explained.
Additionally the Premier noted that the encouragement of the development ordinance and the stamp duty ordinance; the rates are much lower to encourage development outside of Providenciales.
“Our concessions are greater for persons outside of Providenciales, but again you want to bait the investor but the final decision is for them and they’ve been buying personal property, they’ve been buying private property, so it isn’t as if you’re giving crown land on Providenciales where you can have some sort of edge. They’re actually investing in their own private property,” she ended.
Meantime she continued: “That is why it is important for Government to stay on top of it and manage it because you don’t want development to happen and where there are opportunities they’re not getting it. A development is for the benefit of the partner that comes and invests the money, that’s why they’re here because they expect benefits from it but it must also benefit the country and the residents, they cannot be mere spectators. They have to be players.”
LABOR SHORTAGE EXPECTED
Although this is great news, the Premier noted that their biggest challenge will be labor, but she noted that the Ministry of Border Control which is headed by Deputy Premier Hon. Sean Astwood, will make sure that Turks and Caicos Islanders who are available to work are employed but there will be an active search for alternative labor markets.
She added: “Border Control is going to be making sure that there is a special skills drive to make sure that those Turks and Caicos Islanders who are available to work are employed, but it’s not going to be enough and that is why I said that there has been active search for alternative labor markets. It’s a good problem to have and it is good to plan to know that is going to happen.”
When asked by The SUN what other markets they are looking to tap into, the Premier said: “I can’t say but I know that up to today we’ve had an offer from someone who said that they can sit with the Minister and say where people are going. It is a major Caribbean issue as to the labor markets that we will be tapping into and there are new markets that are emerging. I know for a fact that Border Control has been talking about this for months. You would find that some of the developers themselves are looking at the provision of housing and I know one in particular that was actually looking at the local partnership of it, because persons want to say that that is an opportunity for a Turks and Caicos Islander and if a Turks and Caicos Islander is ready to come forward than yes there will be need for housing whether it is attached to construction or the mere fact that they’re young professionals or people who want to replace homes after the storms, there’ll be a need for housing,” she explained.
For years in the Turks and Caicos Islands labor has been coming from countries such as Haiti, Jamaica and the Premier confirmed that they will be looking to make sure that there is a balance of different nationalities.
“The Policy going forward has to be to break up larger numbers and introduced different countries/nationalities and look at a quota. In fact we have not as large as the resorts but another investment that is coming along who is targeting St. Lucia because a lot of skilled labor that people are looking for is there. People are looking at their markets and their asking what is your thought but if they’re skilled and you cannot find it here than of course,” she ended.