Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. invited investors to take another look at the U.S. Virgin Islands during a conference call on Monday. The governor did so in his role as chairman of the Public Finance Authority, the local agency that manages activity on the bond market.
A spokesman for Government House said Bryan’s sales call was a first step towards casting a favorable light on the territory in the eyes of those who could help attract needed capital.
The governor pointed to a series of decisions made during his administration that shows evidence that a financial foundation signals stability. Specifically, Bryan said $5 billion in disaster recovery funds would add seven to ten percent to the gross domestic product in the Virgin Islands for the next 10 years.
“We’re rebuilding a Virgin Islands that’s going to have a bright future and we would like you to join us,” Bryan said. And to make sure those funds are spent well, the territory created the Office of Disaster Recovery to provide oversight.
Government House Director of Communications Richard Motta Jr. said about 50 investment fund managers made up the audience on the other end of Monday’s call. He said the call itself represented the first time in several months since officials in the Virgin Islands have worked to raise the profile of the territory’s municipal bonds.
To support the governor’s proposal, Disaster Recovery Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien spoke on the Monday call. Williams-Octalien gave details about housing recovery and infrastructure repair projects. Details included updates on payments made to contractors working on recovery projects.
Then the Disaster Recovery director launched into a discussion of future projects.
“The Public Finance Authority is in negotiations for a $50 million revolving line of credit with First Bank of Puerto Rico to fund recovery projects across the territory. The transaction is structured so that principal drawn on the line of credit will be made with federal grant money. Interest on the line of credit will be paid for from budgeted funds and backed by gross receipt tax revenue,” she said.
Department of Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte joined the call with remarks about the comeback of air and cruise passengers since 2017.
New air arrivals as of Sept. 1 saw a 63 percent increase on St. Thomas, 17 percent on St. Croix, Boschulte said. The number of flights are approaching pre-storm levels, he said.
Cruise ship arrivals, the first sector of the tourism market to rebound after the storms remain strong, Boschulte said.
Department of Finance Commissioner Kirk Callwood told investors about the territory’s fiscal recovery. Callwood described a conservative approach favored by the governor, favoring conservative expenditures. Added to that, he said, was the creation of a $5 million budget stabilization fund.
“A first for any budget in the territory,” Callwood said.
At the same time, he told investors the Virgin Islands have never missed a payment on its debt service.
The Finance commissioner assured investors the territory’s public power company was trying to stabilize its infrastructure and is working to create a more efficient power generating and distribution system.
Callwood also pointed to the Limetree Bay startup on St. Croix, which promises to revitalize the oil refinery industry.