Survey finds little public support for GB “Silicon Valley” ambitions

Survey finds little public support for GB “Silicon Valley” ambitions
The Grand Bahama Port Authority logo. (PHOTO: GBPA)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — There is very little public support behind the premise that Freeport could become or be positioned as the “Silicon Valley of the Caribbean” or a tech hub, a survey by a Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) working committee has found.

The survey was carried out by the Revitalization and Economic Expansion of Freeport (REEF) working committee. The committee was formulated to create an action plan for the stability and long-term growth of the Grand Bahama economy. The survey attracted 3,162 responses, 93 percent of which were Bahamian citizens resident on Grand Bahama, and a further four percent were Bahamian citizens resident elsewhere.

According to the results of the survey, 92 percent of respondents favor a shift away from tourism being Freeport’s “main industry”.  It was noted this response implies neither that the tourism sector should be downgraded, nor that it should not be developed further once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

Agriculture was selected as the most favored sector among the respondents, followed closely by the maritime, logistics and light industry.

“Information & Communications Technology was selected by only eight percent of respondents, implying that most respondents do not agree with the premise that Freeport could become, or should be positioned as, the ‘Silicon Valley of the Caribbean,’” it was noted.

The government has touted its aspirations of establishing Freeport as a tech hub. At the inaugural Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference on Grand Bahama two years ago, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said The Bahamas was poised to be the “new Silicon capital in the Caribbean”.

Among the other key observations in the survey is that there was a consensus that measures to protect against future hurricanes, diversifying Freeport’s economy away from tourism, establishing a world-class hospital in part to support medical tourism and addressing the issue of derelict buildings in Freeport’s downtown would have a significant positive impact.

It was also noted that most respondents also believe the greatest impact can be achieved by enabling Bahamian businesses, e.g. through enhancing sources of funding for small/micro-enterprises, developing training and mentoring options.

“Respondents also responded favorably (but less so, and with greater diversity of views) to measures that promote foreign businesses and expatriate workers, for instance waiving work permit requirements for expatriates visiting Freeport for business meetings, extending RPT and other exemptions and ‘economic citizenship’ programmes. Respondents who are business owners responded significantly more positively to measures such as extending RPT and other exemptions, ‘economic citizenship’ programmes, an independent Investment Promotion Agency (IPA) and waiving work permit requirements for expatriates visiting Freeport for business meetings, than did respondents who do not own businesses. The idea of branding Freeport with a ‘blue economy’ theme and/or a maritime center was viewed positively, the ‘blue economy’ being the more positively viewed of the two,” it was noted.