EDA Sees Bright Future for Investments in the Territory in 2020

Economic Development Authority CEO Kamal Latham responds to questions from the Finance Committee Monday. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, USVI Legislature)
Economic Development Authority CEO Kamal Latham at a 2019 Senate hearing. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, USVI Legislature)

The U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority Governing Board extended the contract for its auditor and approved travel for staff on Thursday.

The board also heard a marketing strategy and an optimistic outlook for future economic development from Kamal Latham, CEO of the Authority.

Latham said the EDA is in a strong position “to advance economic and job growth” in the territory.

He said six applicants for benefits are in the latter stages of the process. He said the applicants are in the hospitality and manufacturing sector and have the potential to invest $450 million in the territory.

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A report from the auditing firm Bert Smith & Company was not as rosy. The report showed a large deficit that was not there previously. George Willie, who presented the report to the board said, due to new regulations the EDA must show unfunded liabilities on its balance sheet. This includes liabilities incurred when employees retire. The Authority’s employees pay into the Government Employees Retirement System and the unfunded liability is why a draft report was being presented. Willie said he was waiting for more definitive numbers from Government House to enter the audit report before he signed off on it.

After Willie gave his report, the board questioned whether the Authority needs to go out for bids to contract with an auditing firm. Staff said bidding is not required in this case and the time frame for the next audit makes going out for bids prohibitive.

Citing the firm’s positive history of nine years with the Authority all five board members present voted to extend the firm’s contract one more year. The board members present were Kevin Rodriquez, Philip Payne, Jose Penn, Haldane Davies and Gary Molloy. Board member Positive Nelson came later in the meeting.

The Authority’s marketing director Shanell Petersen said she is as optimistic as Latham about future investments. She said things are “trending well.” She said last summer the Authority had about 100 active leads, businesses eligible for tax benefits, and with an interest in relocating to the territory. She said the authority now has 1,000 leads. She said this is the result of contracting a firm that generates relevant leads. She said nine firms are in “various stages of the process” of applying for benefits.

Petersen also said marketing is contracting with an outside source that will produce a radio show for the EDA. The show will be livestreamed on Facebook and also could be made into a podcast.

An agreement with the International Economic Development Council to provide technical assistance did not get approved. It was determined by the board that some legal language needed to be added.

Travel was approved for the staff and the CEO to attend an International Economic Development Council event in Tampa in February.

Board member Nelson said at the conclusion of the meeting that 2019 was “a difficult year,” but he looks forward to a prosperous 2020. He emphasized when the board talks about the economy, it needs to talk about the people.

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