About 15 people gave their opinions at a town hall meeting Wednesday night on St. Croix to help draft a preliminary plan for the V.I. Science and Technology Council. The public input will be used to determine what areas of research the council should foster.
The meeting was conducted by Claudette Young-Hinds of Hinds Unlimited, who began the meeting by stating the council’s ultimate goal to “connect the dots” between researchers, public policy makers and the business community.
Hinds said that most states and territories have similar councils, which coordinate between schools, businesses and government agencies to identify science and technology industries that could be viable in their area and to make sure public and educational policy is in place to support them.
As an example, Hinds pointed to Puerto Rico where their council helped guide the territory’s flagging microchip industry into the burgeoning business of nano-technology manufacturing. She cautioned, however, that the shift took almost a decade and results would be similarly slow in the Virgin Islands.
“This doesn’t happen tomorrow, but we plan ahead,” she said.
Attendees offered a wide range of scientific fields they would like to see turned into V.I. industries, from entomology to bio-fuel research. There was a focus, however, on research that might benefit from the territory’s tropical climate.
One woman suggested research into allergy medication would be a good fit for the islands since the territory has a nearly year-round pollen season.
Another suggestion was research into cultivating bamboo forests on St. Croix, which could be harvested and manufactured into furniture, flooring and housing materials.
One man in the audience brought up the damaging effect of salt air on shoes often seen in the territory.
“No matter how expensive the shoes are, the soles are going to come off because the adhesives don’t stand up to the environment down here,” he said.
While it’s a nuisance, he said, it’s also an opportunity. If the territory could discover an adhesive that stood up to the elements faced here, there would be a market for it worldwide, he reasoned.
As the meeting progressed, some in the audience expressed concern about the government’s ability and willingness to follow through to make these ideas a reality.
“Where is the political will and infrastructure?” one woman asked.
Several people brought up tilapia farming as an example of research that has not come to fruition due to inaction by the government and business leaders. Researchers at the University of the Virgin Islands have studied aquaculture for decades, but tilapia farming has failed to develop as an industry in the territory.
Hinds responded to this by encouraging the attendees to be vigilant in supporting research ideas that they support and not to be afraid to put senators on the spot.
“You’ve got to hold people accountable,” she said. “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Hinds said she would incorporate all of the suggestions into a phase one plan for the council to present at the end of the month. The plan will suggest a basic structure for the organization and a framework for the development of a comprehensive 10-year action plan.
She stressed that the council would work closely with the federally funded V.I. Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research program, but the two entities were distinct and autonomous.
The V.I. Science and Technology Council was founded by Gov. John deJongh Jr. in November 2011. Members for the board are still being appointed, but it will include representatives from the Office of the Governor, the Bureau of Information Technology, V.I. Next Generation Network, UVI, the V.I. Legislature, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Education, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Economic Development Authority, and the Research and Development Park.
Hinds will be conducting additional town hall meetings this week. The community is encouraged to attend.
Thursday from 9:30-11:30 a.m. at UVI Cooperative Extension Service room 143 on St. Croix.
Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at the UVI Administration and Conference Center on St. Thomas.
Friday from 10 a.m.-noon at St. Ursula’s Hall on St. John.
Friday from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at the UVI Administration and Conference Center on St. Thomas.