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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 12, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesEDA Official: Get Out to Draw Business

EDA Official: Get Out to Draw Business

Jennifer Nugent-Hill of the EDA talks about economic growth.The economy of the U.S. Virgin Islands is "at a crossroads," but there is great potential for economic growth despite the doom and gloom of recent news, according to Jennifer Nugent-Hill of the territory’s Economic Development Agency.

Nugent-Hill, the agency’s chief operating officer and assistant chief executive officer, will travel soon to London where she has scheduled meetings with 40 companies that have expressed interest in setting up business in the territory, including 10 prospects she thinks are very interested, she told the Rotary Clubs of St. Croix and Harborside, meeting jointly Thursday at Gertrude’s Restaurant.

She will also travel with a trade group to Panama, in the hopes of capturing business opportunities the widening of the Panama Canal will bring.

Nugent-Hill spoke to Rotarians in a restaurant and in clear sight of the Hovensa oil refinery, the cause of so much worry in recent months. That’s an economic crisis, she acknowledged, but she said she’s not joining the doomsayers.

"What we used to think the economy was three months ago is not what the economy is," she said, acknowledging that at the same time, "This is our home, this is where we live, where we raise our families, where we make money."

Nugent-Hill returned to government about six weeks ago after 18 years in the private sector, working as an executive at Tropical Shipping. Her tenure in business honed her desire that things happen quickly and efficiently, she said.

The Virgin Islands has to compete head to head with localities across the U.S. and around the world for new business and industries, and she said she’s ready to go.

The Economic Development Agency runs a variety of programs offering loans and incentives to attract and retain businesses in the territory, the best known of which is the EDC Benefits, which she called a conduit for "re-branding" the local economy.

Nugent-Hill said she recognizes there have been problems in the past with how those programs were administered, but that overall "they are darned good programs."

St. Croix in particular has plenty of land for an interested business, and a work force that includes a lot of newly available employees with work records in an industrial setting – Hovensa.

But it is not enough to have a "darned good program" and a great locale, she continued. The EDA needs to put "boots on the ground," getting out of the office and out of the territory to meet with the executives and owners who can be enticed to locate in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Her impending trip to London is a case in point. Several of the businesses she’s meeting with require a strong telecommunications system, and she’ll be telling them all about the territory’s ongoing upgrade of the broadband infrastructure and the work of Innovative in upgrading its system.

The cost of energy is a stumbling block that she’ll address forthrightly, she added, but several of them already have broached their own ideas for providing power.

She wouldn’t discuss specifics about any of the companies she’ll visit with, but said they range from light industrial to financial services to "digital businesses" that can set up easily with an office and servers and conduct business on the web.

The Panama trip is part of a larger effort by Gov. John deJongh Jr. through his participation in the Southern Governor’s Association. The Panama Canal widening project is scheduled to be completed in 2014 and when it opens, it is estimated it will generate enough wealth to make Panama a first-world country.

The increase in the number and size of ships that can pass through the canal and the amount of cargo they will carry will create a huge economic opportunity and the government of the territory hopes to capture some of it.

Nugent-Hill said St. Croix is well-positioned to become a hub for transshipment, and with the Hovensa refinery now closed there is new potential for the shipping channel and pier on the south end of the island. She raised a vision of container ships docking at St. Croix and offloading containers of merchandise which are stored in vast new warehouses until needed to be shipped elsewhere.

Before going into private business Nugent-Hill began her career in government. She was the first female commissioner of the V.I. Housing, Parks and Recreation Department and was executive director of the V.I. Private Industry Council., a U.S. Department of Labor-funded program which provided for employment and training opportunities.

She also taught as an adjunct professor in public administration at the University of Virgin Islands.

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