Even as larger spigots of federal funding are drying up amid partisan budget battles in Washington, the U.S. Commerce Department still has competitive, targeted economic development grants the territory should apply for, a federal official told the V.I. Legislature Thursday.
Alma Plummer, an economic development specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (USEDA), testified before the Committee of the Whole along with Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Committee to discuss the 2009 USVI Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) report.
Around in some form since 1965, the CEDS is a statement of objectives for the territory and individual economic sectors, said Lauritz Mills, director of the V.I. Bureau of Economic Statistics and secretary of the CEDS committee. It looks at local conditions, identifies problems and opportunities, and defines the goals and strategies to accomplish them, he said.
Plummer agreed, and encouraged the territory to apply for economic development grants available through her office. The grants, which are all targeted toward planning and technical assistance to foster sustainable economic development, are distributed through merit-based competitive grants within the region.
The U.S. Virgin Islands competes with 13 other states and the District of Columbia, with grants awarded on a quarterly basis, she said. June 10 is the deadline for this year, she said.
Mills testified to the benefits of these grants, saying the U.S. Economic Development Administration has obligated $8.2 million in federal funds for project development, planning and capacity-building over the past decade.
USEDA provided $1.5 million for the V.I. Port Authority Red Hood Marine Terminal, $285,000 for engineering designs for the Port Authority and $5.5 million for the UVI Research and Technology Park, said Mills.
In 2010, the Bureau of Economic Research received $124,000 in federal funds for planning and to create an economic forecasting model. This year, the bureau was awarded $123,000 to conduct a target industry study and to update the CEDS, he said.
Federal regulations require a yearly update and a new CEDS every five years in order to receive funding under USEDA’s public works, economic adjustment and planning programs, Mills said.
The CEDS Committee is in the midst of updating the CEDS, which will be completed and submitted to USEDA by September, according to Mills. As it is, the CEDS includes a short list of projects selected based on public need, their ability to move forward quickly and promise of sustainable development, he said.
But with the current economy, that list will need some tweaking
"The strategy was developed during stronger economic times, just before the national and global economic recession," Mills said "Today economic conditions have deteriorated, business activity is lower and the job market is anemic. Against the backdrop of a slow and fragile economic recovery, the goals and selection of actions for future implementation are being assessed."
Several senators agreed a strategic plan was necessary but questioned how or whether it would be implemented.
"There is no other jurisdiction under the U.S. flag that has plans like the Virgin Islands," said Sen. Usie Richards. "We have a plan for everything. We have a plan to go to the bathroom. But all these plans are sitting on shelves…. What we need to do is implement some of these plans."
No votes were taken during the information-gathering hearing of the Committee of the Whole.