Sept. 5, 2005 An agribusiness company geared to assisting farmers in increasing their sales and profitability, recently opened shop in the Virgin Islands. Fintrac, which began its local operations in Havensight in June, is in the process of moving its headquarters to the territory.
"Our primary focus is farmers, particularly small farmers," said Claire Starkey, Fintrac president, adding that her company focuses on providing training in new technologies to farmers in developing countries.
Starkey and her husband, Tom, started the company in 1980 with headquarters in Washington, D.C. But the business grew rapidly, and branch offices were opened in South Florida, the United Kingdom, East Africa and now St. Thomas. Fintrac is now receiving a lot of projects for Caribbean countries, Starkey said, adding that the company is now working on a project in Jamaica.
Starkey said Fintrac works closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in providing clients in these areas with training in greenhouse farming, drip irrigation and hydroponics, among other techniques.
"We bid on projects and receive funding from USAID to accomplish these projects," Starkey said. "We also bid on projects from the World Bank, but primarily get funding from USAID."
Starkey said moving her company's headquarters to the territory was a necessity at this point, and although St. Croix is more suited to agriculture, locating Fintrac's office on St. Thomas was key. Starkey hopes to set up a training center on the island where the company's agronomists can train before being sent out to various areas across the globe. Local farmers will also be able to receive training at the center, Starkey said.
"We felt that it would be a good idea to rapidly expand our capacity through a training center," Starkey said. "We really needed a training center that was tropical, because most of our clients are from tropical climates."
Starkey said St. Thomas was chosen because the goal of the company is to teach farmers how to produce quality products in adverse conditions. Starkey said it made no sense to set up the center in a location that was ideal for agricultural use. Plus, the company's headquarters must remain in a U.S. locale to qualify for the USAID funding.
Another key reason for selecting St. Thomas was "altitude," Starkey said.
"Altitude is critical, particularly with greenhouses," Starkey said, adding that because Fintrac provides training in greenhouse farming, they needed to select land with a high terrain.
Currently, Starkey is in the process of acquiring land on St. Thomas to set up the training center. Fintrac has also applied to receive benefits from the Economic Development Commission's tax incentive program and is awaiting response from the EDC.
Because the U.S. Virgin Islands is not considered a "developing country" because of its inclusion as part of the United States, none of Fintrac's USAID funds can be used for projects in the territory, Starkey said. However, if the company receives EDC benefits, the company will provide training free of charge to local farmers, and will provide free greenhouse, drip irrigation and hydroponics equipment to select farmers for demonstrative purposes, as part of its benefit package.
"That is our responsibility as we see it as an EDC company," Starkey said. "We'd also like to develop and contribute to educational programs."
Starkey said Fintrac is also committed to supporting women, children and educational and cultural activities.
"We'd like Fintrac to be the face of a new kind of EDC company," Starkey said. "We'd like to contribute to a better bottom line for farmers in this territory."
Starkey said Fintrac is now in the process of hiring staff locally.
"We're very pleased with the availability of skilled labor here," Starkey said. She added that she has been meeting with local farmers' groups, and she hopes to have the training center set up by March of next year to better assist local farmers.
For more information on Fintrac, visit www.fintrac.com or www.agribusiness.com.
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