Sept. 3, 2003 – It may be a little tricky telling who's in charge in the Virgin Islands on Monday, as many of the territory's top government officials will be in Washington, D.C., for the Interior Department's 2003 Investment Development Conference.
The governor, the lieutenant governor, the Senate president and at least four other senators, the University of the Virgin Islands president and the chief executives of The West Indian Co. and the Economic Development Authority are among those planning to take part.
The private sector will be represented as well in the first-ever such gathering hosted by Interior Secretary Gale Norton as a vehicle for fostering investment in the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas as well as the Virgin Islands.
The objective of the conference is to bring together representatives of key economic sectors in the territories and potential investors in those sectors for what the conference planners describe as "project opportunities in politically stable, off-shore U.S. jurisdictions with no currency risk and protected by the U.S. legal system."
Partnering with the Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs in presenting the conference are the U.S. Commerce Department, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the Small Business Administration, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Commerce Department's "Preserve America" cultural and heritage tourism program.
The conference coordinator, Cristopolis Dieguez, said on Wednesday that he expects to have a list of the companies registered to take part available for distribution by Friday.
Although the program is a one-day affair, a key match-making component of the conference will take place on Tuesday. The Office of Insular Affairs will set up meetings between representatives of businesses interested in pursuing possible investment ventures with the governors of the target territories. These meetings will begin first thing Tuesday, a conference staff member said, and "will probably wrap up in the early afternoon."
14 V.I. presenters
Among some 60 participants scheduled to make presentations at the conference, which is taking place at the JW Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, 14 are from the Virgin Islands:
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull will join David Cohen, Interior deputy assistant secretary for Insular Affairs, and Govs. Felix Camacho of Guam, Juan Babauta of the Northern Marianas and Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa in being introduced at the opening session, where Norton will deliver the keynote address.
Frank Schulterbrandt, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority, and private tax attorney Marjorie Roberts are among five presenters scheduled to offer "Advice from Experts on Tax and Special Incentives."
Malcolm Kirwan, executive director of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park, is to be one of four presenters on "Free Trade Zone and Business Park Development."
Cassan Pancham, regional manager of FirstBank of the Virgin Islands and president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, is one of three scheduled speakers on "Federal Financing Programs and Local Lending Institutions."
Joel Tutein, V.I. National Park St. Croix superintendent, is one of three scheduled speakers on the subject of "Preserve America, Cultural and Heritage Tourism."
UVI President LaVerne Ragster and UVI board of trustees member Yvonne Thraen will join the presidents of the University of Guam, Northern Marianas Community College and American Samoa Community College, along with the director of the Pacific Business Center at the University of Hawaii in discussing "Education Partnering." The panel is to focus on specialized workforce training initiatives, revenue opportunities in education, academic exchange programs and the role of academia in advancing economic development initiatives.
Samuel Ebbesen, president of Innovative Communication Corp., is among four panelists who are to discuss "Telecommunications." The session summary states: "Representatives from the U.S. Virgin Islands will discuss the successful privatization of their island's telephone company."
Sen. Louis Hill, who chairs the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee, and Sonya Nelthropp, senior manager of the Public Works Department's federal compliance program, are among five scheduled presenters on the topic of "Solid Waste and Recycling." The summary of this topic states: "The lack of solid waste disposal capacity is a pressing problem in each of the territories and the surrounding islands. This session will address opportunities in recycling and waste disposal on a regional level."
Senate President David Jones; Sen. Luther Renee, who chairs the Economic Development, Agriculture and Environmental Protection Committee; and Edward E. Thomas Sr., president of The West Indian Co., are three of the four panelists on a presentation on "Maritime and Cruise Lines." The fourth is the director of the Guam Visitors Bureau.
The topic summary, however, does not mention the Virgin Islands: "American Samoa and Guam have some of the best natural deep water ports in the Pacific. Major port revitalization and ship repair facilities are being planned in both territories simultaneous with the active recruitment of cruise lines. During the next two years, the government of Guam will receive waterfront property valued in excess of $90 million. This open forum will discuss these and other opportunities in the regional maritime industry."
Opportunities for meeting needs
Among the panels on which Virgin Islanders are not making presentations are these:
"Water and Wastewater Systems." The summary states: "Most of the territories are in desperate need of major investment in their water and wastewater infrastructure. Find out how this will create opportunities for private sector involvement. You will also hear about all available federal funding and technical assistance to the territories …"
"Privatization and Infrastructure Finance." Discussion is to cover "innovative financing techniques for infrastructure, federal assistance for infrastructure projects and successful privatization models."
"Power Authority Privatization." The summary states: "Energy production, including its generation and transmission, is a critical concern in all of the territories. Learn about the different financing options, and management and privatization models employed by the respective power authorities. Also learn more about the availability of management contracts and procurement opportunities in energy with regional multilateral agencies and feasibility of different alternative energy sources."
"Telemedicine and Distance Education." Topics to be addressed are how the territories' telecommunications infrastructures can be leveraged to develop telehealth, rural health and distance learning initiatives, along with federal funding available to advance these initiatives.
"SBA Procurement and 8A Certification." The focus is on how small and medium-sized businesses can become eligible for federal procurement contracts.
Sens. Emmett Hansen II and Shawn-Michael Malone also are planning to attend the conference, and Malone said he would also be attending an interagency meeting on Tuesday to talk about getting the Internal Revenue Service Child Tax Credit revoked for the Virgin Islands' mirror tax system.
Sen. Celestino White, who is not going, said on Wednesday that he thought 10 of his colleagues would be making the trip but did not name names.
Others who will be attending from the territory include Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards; Carl Gotts, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce vice president for internal affairs; Monique Sibilly-Hodge, assistant Tourism commissioner; Holland Redfie
ld, ICC vice president; and Diana Robinson of Paradise Properties and a member of the V.I. Territorial Association of Realtors, who will have a booth display.
One St. Croix business person, asked on Wednesday if she knew who-all would be going to the conference from the territory, laughed and said "Who isn't going?"
As far as could be determined, there has been no coordination locally in terms of representation. A Government House spokesperson could provide no information. An aide to the Senate president said his office was not privy to which other senators were attending and that any who were going had made arrangements separately.
One business executive said it would have been helpful if those planning to attend could have gotten together locally to discuss who would cover what areas of information in the panel discussions, to avoid overlapping or possibly conflicting information.
Molly Morris contributed to this report.
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