Sept. 20, 2007 — A standing-room only crowd of local business leaders, government officials and other prominent citizens came to the St. Croix Economic Summit Thursday at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus, offering their input as to where the St. Croix economy is headed and how to get there.
Thursday was day one of the two-day summit. Participants split into six focus groups, each one tackling a different aspect of the big islands economy. Between group sessions, they listened to keynote speeches by Gov. John deJongh Jr. and by Rik Kirkland, Fortune magazine senior editor at large.
In a speech replete with quotes from Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs and other luminaries, Kirkland spoke of the benefits of globalization and opportunities in the global economy. .
[Early TV star] Sid Caesar once said 'the guy that invented the wheel, he was an idiot. The guy that invented the other three, he was a genius', Kirkland said. Kirkland said unpopular aspects of globalization such as outsourcing were really good things, presenting entrepreneurs with opportunities to increase efficiency and opportunities for economic growth in the developing world.
Accenture will employ more people in India than in the U.S. by this August, he said. IBM has cut 31,000 U.S jobs since the 90s and added 50,000 in India. Now India is outsourcing work to Brazil.
At the end Kirkland brought the talk around to some specific advice for St. Croix and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Any small country or entity, you dont want to go it alone, he said. Partner with other, neighboring countries. What the thriving states have in common is active and deep public-private partnerships. They are also developing the skill base in their populations and have a keen sense of where their economic niche is.
DeJongh spoke about what he hoped the summit could help accomplish.
We need as Virgin Islanders to reach a consensus on what economic development is and for whom, he said. We need to make our goals clear and we need to determine the best path to reach those goals. To do that we need to have a critical, honest discussion of what holds us back. As we seek to develop successful strategies for St. Croix we have to examine models that failed."
The governor said he believed there was no single solution; no panacea to create a prosperous St. Croix.
I would contend there is no one golden angel to invest our hopes and dreams in, he said. Not the [Global Crossing] fiber optic cable, nor the efforts of the research and technology park. Let me be clear; I am not suggesting we should not talk with people planning big projects. But the solution is not as glamorous as a single big project.
DeJongh suggested the success of Ireland as a model.
A quarter century ago, Ireland was basically decrepit; the poor man of Europe, he said. Now it is the richest country in Europe in terms of per capita income.
Ireland turned its economy around by increasing the quality of their workforce and becoming a mecca for computer programming and software engineering. DeJongh said for St. Croix to follow that model would first and foremost include the transformation of our education system. Literacy standards must be raised. Our children must be prepared.
He also said St. Croix needs to look to small businesses as the engine of economic growth.
It is time to spend a little more time celebrating the man in Frederiksted with a business in his home, he said. It is time to spend less time looking for a federal windfall and spend more time supporting the local man with a plumbing business.
Making the government more responsive and easing bureaucratic red tape are also critical, he said.
We have to make permitting and licensing smoother and easier, deJongh said. To sudden and spontaneous applause, he added, We frankly have to stop jerking people around and start helping them.
In between speeches, the summit participants split into six groups focused on six different aspect of the St. Croix economic puzzle. Government affairs, tourism, access to capital and workforce development were among the categories.
The long-term goal of the summit, the organizers say, is to develop and maintain working partnerships across the public and private sectors to work together to achieve shared, sustainable economic success for St. Croix. One expected outcome is the formation of a task force or think tank of business and community leaders who will be charged with sustaining the momentum for economic revitalization from the two-day summit. This group is to meet with the governor on an ongoing basis.
Anthony Weeks radio show "Money Matters and More" and the Stanford Financial Group put the summit together with the help of an array of local business leaders, organizations and academics.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.