Nov. 12, 2003 More than 100 people braved the elements on a sodden Wednesday morning to attend the Economic Development Commission's annual Compliance Conference at the Divi Carina Bay Resort on St. Croix.
The yearly meetings have been conducted since 1966 with a view toward confirming that EDC beneficiary companies who enjoy major tax breaks in exchange for commitments to hire locally and buy locally are playing by the rules. The meetings also give EDC officials charged with enforcing compliance a chance to clarify the law and hear complaints and questions from representatives of EDC "member" companies.
Because of the flooded roads and unrelenting downpour from a huge and persistent tropical disturbance hanging over the region combined with a few technical glitches the meeting got off to a late start at about 9:30 a.m.
In his brief opening remarks, Dean Plaskett, EDC board chairman and commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, raised "concerns" about member companies sticking to their promises to employ Virgin Islanders. He cited what he termed a "loophole" in the law.
"What I want to talk about this morning is not only compliance with the letter of the law," Plaskett said, "but also with the spirit of the law. And that is to provide beneficial and gainful employment opportunities for Virgin Islanders and to increase the benefits to our economy."
On the employment issue, he said, "There's concern from a compliance perspective about whether or not we are reaching the target group actually intended to be reached. It has been brought to our attention that due to what many considered a loophole in the statute, that individuals are in fact, or may in fact, be importing employees from Stateside."
At least in some cases, he said, "Once benefits are granted, people Stateside are told that you have these benefits, and they come to the Virgin Islands, where they establish residency and thereby are hired and satisfy the residency requirement technically." Anyone can see, he said, that such a practice "contravenes the intent of the statute; it contravenes the purpose for which we are here.
" We have to be cautious," Plaskett said, "that we not only comply with the letter of the statute, but we also comply with the spirit of the statute."
He said that among the "significant" changes made when the Industrial Development Commission became the Economic Development Commission is the establishment of a director of compliance, currently Margarita Greenidge-Benjamin, and at least four "compliance officers." He said their work is showing the public that the territory is getting its "benefit for the bargain" and the beneficiaries are in fact complying with the statute.
Nadine Marchena, assistant to CEO Frank Schulterbrandt, described the five divisions of the umbrella Economic Development Authority, including the Enterprise Zones program, which offers tax subsidies (as distinct from exemptions) for physical improvements of buildings, mostly restricted to the historic districts of Frederiksted and Christiansted.
Marchena characterized the growth of EDC as "phenomenal," saying that the commission received 24 applications in 2001, 51 in 2002, and so far this year 80 applications have come in with 20 submitted this month alone, 16 of which are "new applications."
She said that the commission's "resume bank" currently has 175 to 200 applications on hand from people with expertise in finance, technology and administration/management. She urged the companies present to phone her for more information on jobseekers at 774-8104.
After a computer-recorded address by Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, who was off-island Wednesday, the meeting broke into several seminars to be held over the course of the day.
A similar event is set for Friday, Nov. 14, beginning at 9 a.m., at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas.
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