The recommendations, measures, and initiatives outlined below were influenced by or were a direct result of conversations, participation, suggestions, and input from Vision 2040 participants. There will be many changes over the next 20 years—some within the Territory and some in the broader global economic context that will influence the Territory. These changes must be factored into any implementation strategy as progress is tracked. It is also expected that there will be added components of Vision 2040 in the months and years to follow. For additional details on initiatives and implementation, please see Volume 6 of the Vision 2040 plan.
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The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) must modernize its infrastructure to grow the economy and be competitive in both the Caribbean marketplace and global economy. This includes having extremely efficient and effective communications systems, reliable energy, roads, ports, airports, attainable housing, efficient and environmentally friendly water and sewer systems, desirable sites and buildings, among other physical requisites.
Vision 2040 calls on the Virgin Islands Port Authority, Department of Public Works, Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA), and other agencies with public facility and infrastructure responsibilities to adapt current and long-term plans to align with and advance the goals and objectives of Vision 2040.
Two key infrastructure needs relating most directly to economic development which require immediate attention are outlined below: energy and development of land for industry growth.
1.3 By 2025, reduce commercial rate for electricity to be equivalent to or lower than the residential rate.
1.4 Adjust electricity rates only as caused by inflation, not by capital improvements.
1.5 By 2030, create commercial incentive rate to increase competitiveness for business attraction, creation, retention, and expansion.
1.6 By 2030, maintain or reduce WAPA’s rates to be no more than 110% of the average Caribbean rate.
1.7 By 2035, manage WAPA’s rates to be equivalent to the average Caribbean rate or manage WAPA’s rates to be no more than 2.5 times the U.S. average rate, whichever is less.
1.8 By 2040, manage WAPA’s rates to be 10% less than the average Caribbean rate, or manage WAPA’s rates to be no more than twice the U.S. average rate, whichever is less.
1.9 Reduce current (2020) SAIFI (System Average Interruption Frequency Index) and SAIDI (System Average Interruption Duration Index) indices by at least 10% by 2025, 25% by 2030, 40% by 2035, and 50% by 2040.
1.10 Improve WAPA’s Fitch Ratings bond rating from CCC to B by 2025, B to BB by 2030, BB to BBB by 2035, and BBB to A by 2040.
1.11 Prepare Market Analysis supporting development of a speculative industrial building (built for specific uses but usually prior to identification of known occupants) and begin construction of that building swiftly (by either USVIEDA, the private sector, or partnership) to reach at least 50% occupancy by 2025 and 100% by 2030.
1.12 Design and have operating a real estate inventory portion of the USVIEDA website that includes all sites and buildings in the USVI suitable for larger manufacturing, warehouse/distribution, office or R&D operations, particularly for target sectors. Creation and effective management of centralized available properties database and easy access to this database from USVIEDA’s and partners’ websites are necessary as long as business executives and site selection consultants have this as a preferred research method.
1.13 Maintain and strengthen the working relationship with all USVI commercial and industrial real estate brokers to assure all listed properties are included in the USVIEDA real estate inventory.
1.14 Prepare and maintain a list of site location consultants and provide them with the real estate inventory at least semi-annually, with goal of establishing or expanding at least 2 new businesses per year attributable to the real estate inventory.
1.15 Complete development of at least 50 acres of the St. Croix Renaissance Park by 2025, 35% of developable land by 2030, 50% by 2035, and 75% by 2040.
1.16 Maintain full occupancy of USVIEDA properties in the Virgin Islands and William D. Roebuck Industrial Parks.
1.17 Prepare Market Analysis and Development Plans for a mixed-use business park on the 261+/- acres of USVI government owned 361 Estate Betty’s Hope property south of Henry Rohlsen Airport.
1.18 Begin development on 361 Betty’s Hope with 10% complete by 2030, 25% by 2035, and 50% by 2040.
1.19 By 2025, prepare Market Analysis supporting development of a second speculative building and construct that building (by either USVIEDA, the private sector, or partnership); reach at least 60% occupancy by 2035 and 100% by 2040.
1.20 By 2030, prepare Market Analysis supporting development of a third speculative (or pre-leased) building and construct that building (by either USVIEDA, the private sector, or partnership); reach 85% occupancy by 2040.
1.21 Host a Site Location Consultant Familiarization Tour at least twice between 2025 and 2030 with goal being to host at least three nationally-recognized selection consultants.
1.22 Conduct a Real Estate Brokers Appreciation Day every other year; alternate between St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix locations.
2. Business Climate
The Territorial government must fundamentally alter its approach to interacting with the business community. Businesses need evidence that public officials are interested in supporting their growth instead of the widespread current belief that government impedes growth. This can be largely addressed by improving the responsiveness, efficiency, transparency, and accountability of government to the private sector. There are, however, related problems that the Territory must address. A serious restructuring of government is needed to reduce employment and costs while increasing efficiencies of service. As the economy diversifies and new industry jobs are added, it is expected that government will no longer be regarded by many as the employer of first resort.
Role of Public Sector
2.1 All heads of cabinet departments and agencies should provide the governor with three of the most substantive actions that they could take to improve services to the business community. This would produce over 100 changes (in addition to the initiatives described in this report) and send a very clear message that the public sector is serious about improving the business climate.
2.2 To achieve Vision 2040 business growth projections, establish a Business Climate Commission with majority private sector representation that would be provided resources needed to thoroughly review, assess fiscal impact, and propose to the Executive and Legislative branches of government changes to the tax and regulatory environment, and recommend supportive public/private initiatives to improve the business climate. The Commission should include appropriate government officials whose departments, employees, regulations, and actions impact the process of establishing and operating a business. The government officials remain on and the businesspeople are replaced over time with new private sector representatives which refreshes the process of identifying problems and solutions.
2.3 Undertake a continuous process of team building and training for all government employees who interact with the business development and operations process. It is clear from interviews, that many government employees don’t think of themselves as part of the economic development team, but they need to think that way because their actions can seriously impede economic and business development. They need to be viewed as open and enthusiastic problem solvers, and patiently listen, question, learn, and respond with accurate and complete service.
2.4 Establish maximum 10 business day turnaround for receiving a business license; if there is no action taken in that period, then the license is automatically approved.
2.5 As part of a constant performance improvement effort, many places utilize electronic feedback and follow-up surveys (a modern-day version of the “How Did We Do?” hard-copy forms) in every instance where businesspeople and residents interact with government employees. Make sure this kind of feedback is built into all departments of government. These surveys remain anonymous and are evaluated frequently to identify where improvements are needed.
2.6 Address the underground economy by developing supportive outreach and specific, system-wide approaches that lead to licensing, tax payments, and compliance.
2.7 Develop a research and development tax credit program.
Economic Development/Civic Stakeholders
2.8 Develop visitation training and certification for workers in hospitality sectors and share key messages with the public so that visitors to the Territory feel welcomed.
2.9 Establish incentives to encourage formation of angel funds by residents and those living outside the Territory, with emphasis on diaspora groups, to benefit pre-early stage businesses.
2.10 Develop formal arrangements to partner with the World Bank, CARICOM, and other Caribbean groups that are advancing initiatives to help entrepreneurs succeed.
2.11 Enhance export technical assistance capacity to substantially increase the number of businesses exporting products.
2.12 The USVIEDA should establish a best practices Business Expansion and Retention program with dedicated staffing and funding to track individual business needs and responses via a customer management relationship database.
2.13 Working in close collaboration with the chambers of commerce, the USVIEDA should conduct twice a year periodic temperature taking and appreciation days for the business community where trained representatives fan out and visit as many businesses as possible in a single day.
2.14 Conduct a business survey on an annual basis. By conducting the survey every year, the USVI will be able to see progress toward a goal of achieving majority support from businesses. Consider simplifying the survey. As an alternative, a “Question of the Month” approach can be used, which spreads out the survey over time, reduces the time needed to complete it each month, and becomes a form of regular communication with the Territory’s business community.
2.15 Conduct a series of business town halls at least once a year but ideally more frequently. They can be done as an invitation to all businesses or segmented by business type. This will offer the USVIEDA leadership qualitative as well as quantitative input. These can be used to explore in more detail important topics that emerge from the “Question of the Week.” Just as important, even for the businesses that do not participate, it will convey a sense that the USVIEDA and its partners are listening.
2.16 Increase frequency of communications between the public and private sectors with quarterly e-newsletters and publications to the entire licensed business community; fact-based updates on progress in addressing business climate and related quality of place and life issues (energy, crime, etc.), profiles of/testimonials by successful businesses in the territory, important calendar notes for the quarter ahead, and information on available services and programs, particularly when they change. These publications could also be distributed to the USVI diaspora as a means of maintaining contact and encouraging people to return to the Territory and operate a business there.
2.17 Conduct an ongoing local media relations campaign, promoting through the press the newsworthy USVIEDA, Research and Technology Park (RTPark), Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and other economic initiatives, progress, and testimonials.
2.18 Publicize locally the results of the public relations effort nationally. Get a positive feature in the Wall Street Journal or a trade publication about doing business in the Territory. Do not assume the businesses in the Islands have seen it. Play it back to them, letting it serve as a validation for their own decision to operate in the Territory.
2.19 Conduct receptions in diaspora-concentrated cities in the United States, including: Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Houston, and New York.
2.20 Host annual receptions on St. Thomas and St. Croix for the majority of diaspora who return for a visit (often during the holidays) at least once a year.
2.21 Conduct semiannual diaspora town halls, similar to those done for this report, hosted by the USVIEDA CEO or even, on occasion, by the governor.
2.22 Develop a new brand for economic development that reflects the targeted industries and new direction for the USVI.
2.23 Develop Territory-wide Annual Economic Development Scorecards as important measuring sticks for evaluating progress, including metrics and a benchmarking system for reporting small business and entrepreneurial services and customer satisfaction measures.
2.24 Develop resources for improving storefronts in neighborhood centers.
3. Education and Workforce
The USVI must re-think its education system to achieve economic growth by focusing intently on creativity and discovery, and by aligning with industry and workforce needs of the future to help stem the outflow of some of the Territory’s best and brightest. Better education means better workers, better jobs, and less brain drain.
3.1 Promote and expand curricula focused on critical thinking and skills-based proficiency education.
3.2 Develop programs that are centered on motivating young people with entrepreneurial interests.
3.3 Secure commitment of public educators to connect teachers with businesses so classrooms can better prepare students for high-quality technology jobs.
3.4 Establish an ”idea infrastructure” in the K-12 curriculum that provides focus on fun exploration and discovery, research, and hands-on science and technology learning. This will help address inequality brought on in part by the pace of technological changes by providing comfort with technology and encourage higher level skills aptitudes.
3.5 Develop stackable credentials to provide career pathways for students, employees, and adults that support skill attainment and employment in the targeted industry sectors. The benefit of stackable credentials (programs and certificates that build on each other) is that they can be earned in a short period of time and provide career-relevant skills for jobs that often do not require a four-year degree.
3.6 Develop more academic and research-oriented partnerships with U.S. mainland higher education institutions.
3.7 Establish K-12 community-based learning science and technology scholarships to encourage students to pursue internships and apprenticeships with employers.
3.8 Double science and technology enrollment at University of the Virgin Islands (UVI).
3.9 Position the University of the Virgin Islands to be known as an “honors university” among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Over time, this will help attract more talent from the mainland and help stem brain drain.
3.10 Once the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan (CEDS) is approved, UVI should consider applying to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to become an EDA University Center. Currently, five HBCUs have been designated, and as such, become part of a community of institutions that share information and receive support.
3.11 Recruit world-class academic and industry investigators to provide increased visibility and capacity to diversify the economy, with a special focus on the blue economy.
3.12 Focus on technology in all aspects of learning, advance research and development, and introduce new technologies into classrooms to help diversify the industry base and improve all facets of life in the territory.
3.13 Encourage life-long learning and volunteering opportunities with local nonprofits and foundations.
3.14 Encourage youth volunteers and input for events and other economic development related endeavors to expose young people to critical economic issues facing their communities.
4. Diversified Economy
Diversifying the economic base in the Vision 2040 targeted industries will help produce family-sustaining job opportunities, reduce dependence on public sector employment, and shift the tourism focus to longer-stay visitors by celebrating the cultural, recreational, and heritage-related assets of the Territory.
Economic Development Infrastructure
4.1 Commission a consultant to help develop most efficient and effective delivery of economic development programs and incentives, along with performance measurement systems, and joint protocols for interactions among the SBDC, RTPark, and USVIEDA, and other entities engaged in providing technical assistance to entrepreneurs and small businesses with the goal to clarify support and have one access point for those seeking help.
4.2 Diversify start-up activities across traded sectors and targeted industries.
4.3 Develop more outreach and programming for early-stage and second-stage minority and women-owned businesses.
4.4 Develop financial incentives that are targeted to local small businesses and entrepreneurs so that they can meet the needs of the local market.
4.5 Prioritize financial incentives and lending products at all levels (from start-ups to growth and mature firms) to business activity that will accelerate the advancement of targeted industries and transition the Territory to Green and Blue Economies (by expanding renewable energy, improving the environment, healthy water, land, and food, etc.)
4.6 Form a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) to increase innovative lending options and meet critical early-stage capital gaps. CDFIs are locally controlled versus shareholder centered capital institutions approved by the U.S. Treasury Department to promote social responsibility and inclusion. A CDFI can have a depository bank or credit union structure and be eligible to receive federal bond guarantees, loans, grants, equity investments, and affordable housing solutions.
4.7 Integrate financial incentives with other economic development tools such as entrepreneurial support and BRE. Activities in both areas should spread the word about what is available, gather information on what is and is not working for the businesses, and provide insight on where programs should be adjusted.
4.8 Establish a process through which all providers of direct support (USVIEDA, RTPark, etc.) submit annual performance metrics in the same format.
4.9 Develop a loan guarantee program to assist second-stage businesses in the targeted sectors with their growth plans.
4.10 Establish a revolving loan fund (RLF) for targeted industries to purchase advanced technology, machinery, and equipment. Approval of the CEDS and subsequent recognition of the Territory by USEDA as an Economic Development District may help in obtaining USEDA funding to establish an RLF to provide gap financing enabling small businesses to grow and generate new employment opportunities with competitive wages and benefits.
4.11 Support and secure funding for at least six Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) proposals to federal agencies.
4.12 Establish international investment partner- ships for information/digital technologies and environmental management.
4.13 Focus on new in-Territory manufacturing of resilient building materials (including hemp-based materials) and create an incentive (or mandate) for properties to utilize these types of materials as a way to stormproof structures and support local construction jobs.
4.14 Develop “Maker Spaces” for small local craftspeople/manufacturers to support entrepreneurial growth by offering low-cost or free facilities that allow individuals to produce goods to earn a living and that help incubate and grow potential businesses.
4.15 Create a recycled materials manufacturing initiative to utilize waste for “green” products.
4.16 Attract more mid-sized meetings and conferences to the Territory, in the group size 200-400 persons.
The Diaspora ("Expats")
4.17 Establish a USVI Worldwide Affinity Group to initiate a strong and durable effort to engage the diaspora. The initiative could include, but not be limited to: a dedicated hire of an experienced business person to manage the effort along with benchmarks that lead to established goals of metrics such as number of ex-pats who return, businesses they bring with them, investments they make, and new businesses they launch.
4.18 Establish and maintain a diaspora database. Cast a wide net in the beginning, refining it over time based on those most likely to return and add value to the Territorial economy.
4.19 Use social media and produce and distribute a diaspora-focused quarterly newsletter. Highlight progress on the quality of life issues that are their greatest concerns, features on fellow ex-pats who made the move back and are “making it happen” back home, reminders and updates on USVIEDA and other government resources that can lead to joint business ventures, investments, and increased relocation back to the Territory.
4.20 Establish Relocation Assistance Program to help diaspora and other remote working professionals to relocate to the Territory. This may not need to involve an incentive, but rather resources for program support.
4.21 Develop fund to help support farm-to-table enterprises and encourage restaurants and services, where driven by market demand, to purchase Territory-produced fresh food.
4.22 Facilitate the creation of a hemp processing facility through public-private partnerships.
4.23 Prepare analyses to develop a co-processing facility for value-added food products among multiple businesses.
4.24 Produce feasibility study for creation of an agri-business park on St. Croix to provide buildable sites with appropriate infrastructure for food processing, packaging, shipping, and related activities such as hemp-based manufacturing of resilient building materials.
4.25 In partnership with UVI, establish a business support program for local farmers to assist with grant applications and other business services. Explore academic programs that would include business-oriented classes to support local farmers through business plan preparation and other activities at little or no cost to farmers.
4.26 Establish a Farm Credit institution or arrange as a division of a new CDFI to focus on the credit needs of farmers.
4.27 Create a Blue Economy Consortium as a private-public group to provide guidance for the development of initiatives related to the blue economy.
4.28 Promote and build upon existing work being conducted by UVI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Studies.
4.29 Prioritize rebuilding of the MacLean Marine Science Center.
4.30 Expand and strengthen UVI’s research partnerships with the University of Miami, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, and the Nature Conservancy.
4.31 Continue UVI’s Ocean Lab research and ocean buoy management partnership with the Caribbean Coastal Ocean Observing System (CARICOOS) network.
4.32 Set clear, measurable, and consistent targets for a sustainable blue economy.
4.33 Assess and communicate performance on these goals and targets.
4.34 Advise policymakers regarding legislative and regulatory initiatives that impact the blue economy.
4.35 Develop integrated strategies for sustainable tourism and related infrastructure that take into account the blue ecosystem.
4.36 Unlock sustainable blue energy potential by developing a policy framework to accelerate the transfer and application of blue economy technologies.
4.37 Optimize conservation and sustainable fisheries along with aquaculture resources.
4.38 Explore and implement mechanisms to support public and private investments in the blue economy that would allow the transition of established sectors to the economy or that would open up new sectors. Such mechanisms could include visitor entry fees to marine protected areas, debt for nature swaps, or blue bonds.
4.39 Partner with other Caribbean places to create a regional initiative for aquaculture/mariculture in the future. Build a robust research and development infrastructure at UVI to support this initiative.
5. Quality of Place and Life
The Territory must systematically upgrade public places, streets, general cleanliness, modernize health care, address public safety, and reduce the high cost of living. A major deterrent to high crime rates is the availability of good, private sector jobs. Broader economic prosperity—the singular focus of Vision 2040—will reduce the need to commit crime in order to survive. The Territory must also maintain a focus on critical elements contributing to the high cost of living such dependence on imported foodstuffs, WAPA electric rates, and government operating costs that result in higher than necessary fees and taxes.
5.1 As a companion to the Territory’s focus on reducing violent crime, continue to find new methods of reducing the drug trade on the islands which often leads to violent crime. Support enhancements of vocational education programs, extracurricular activities for youths, internships and apprenticeship opportunities.
5.2 Engage youth in community revitalization efforts and volunteerism to build community pride and provide alternatives to crime and gangs, such as a proposed public art initiative.
5.3 Develop a Territory-wide recycling program to reduce litter and landfill deposits, salvage valuable materials, and improve the appearance of the islands. Position the Territory as an example of how small-scale recycling can work.
5.4 Ensure that road construction and repair are designed and constructed to high standards intended to have a long lifespan. Repairs cannot be just a short-term fix of potholes. Roads in areas with high truck traffic should be constructed and maintained to industrial road standards.
5.5 Produce Comprehensive Land Use and Water Plan for each island in the Territory.
5.6 Document, map, and prioritize sites and neighborhoods of historic significance for preservation/restoration/historic adaptive reuse.
5.7 Develop new programs to provide micro-grants and low-interest loans to restore and rehabilitate single-family homes, with incentives for utilizing resilient building materials to mitigate impacts of future storms, support the local construction industry, and to support new domestic manufacturing of resilient building materials (including hemp-based products).
5.8 Enhance downtown revitalization programs that target resources on a competitive basis to the town centers throughout the Territory to improve public spaces, create pedestrian friendly streets, and redevelop vacant and underutilized properties. These programs should seek to leverage private investment to the maximum extent possible.
5.9 Facilitate the creation of small- and moderate-scale community gardens into the fabric of communities by repurposing underutilized public and private lots. For new development, encourage development to incorporate agricultural/garden components to create “agrihoods” or neighborhoods oriented toward gardens and small-scale farming.
5.10 Create a Territory-wide Public Art Initiative: a formal public art program focused on creating artistic installations and murals on public and private property. Focus on resource-neutral approaches to begin, including utilizing volunteers and donations. Identify appropriate public properties and provide opportunities to private property owners to enlist their properties in the programs. Focus public art projects in areas in need of revitalization.
5.11 Support projects and business that add to a sense of place with focus on space for business start-ups, the gig economy, arts and culture, and livability in core communities.
5.12 Embrace and employ telemedicine, simulation, 3-D printing, and other emerging medical technologies to improve healthcare in the Territory and reduce the concern about the quality of healthcare that is a major impediment to the return of the diaspora.
5.13 Implement the 11 elements of the Healthier Horizons Initiative, in particular the U.S. Virgin Islands Territorial Health Plan being prepared by the VI Department of Health.
5.14 Support projects and business initiatives that add to a sense of place with focus on space for business start-ups, the gig economy, arts, culture, and livability in core communities.
5.15 Invest in high-quality childcare.
5.16 While building the quality of healthcare services in the Territory, begin to promote medical and wellness tourism in the U.S. Virgin Islands with a focus on the high quality of life available during long recuperation periods.
5.17 Promote efforts to create retirement communities and assisted living facilities for both seniors in the Territory and those from the U.S. mainland that might wish to retire or “snowbird” to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Market the Territory as a retirement destination to attract wealthy retirees that will also create demand for, and increased viability of, high caliber health care institutions and facilities.