The V.I. Economic Development Authority’s Vision 2040 presented its St. John community survey results Friday in a virtual presentation, revealing the challenges faced by Love City residents.
Vision 2040 is an interactive process launched by the EDA in October with the aim of producing a long-term economic strategy and action plan for the territory.
St. Thomas and St. Croix’s community survey results were shared in separate virtual meetings, and diaspora survey results were shared at each of the three presentations.
There were 196 responses to the St. John survey. Sixty-six percent of respondents were born and raised in the Virgin Islands, 59 percent have lived on St. John their whole life, and 33 percent have lived on island for more than 10 years.
St. John differed from its sister islands in a handful of categories. Only 14 percent of St. John respondents indicated they believed conditions will improve, compared to 22 percent of St. Thomas and St. Croix respondents.
Conversely, 33 percent of St. John survey takers believed opportunities will present themselves, while only 28 and 26 percent believed the same on St. Thomas and St. Croix, respectively.
“I’m wondering if there is a sense of greater self-reliance, a ruggedness,” said Dan Gundersen, vice president of Camoin 310, the national economic development firm that’s overseeing the first phase of the Vision 2040 project.
“St. John residents may not believe conditions will improve markedly, but they believe opportunities will present themselves. I think that suggests a willpower here that’s quite interesting.”
A better quality of life was the No. 1 reason each island’s respondents guessed residents would leave the territory. St. John surveyees ranked “too expensive” and “medical reasons” equally, with 22 percent citing each of these as reasons people would leave the island.
Those who took the survey were asked what they thought other Caribbean places are doing better than the USVI.
Both St. Thomas and St. John ranked a focus on equitable opportunities as the top area where other places in the region are excelling. The virtual presentation included a word cloud with descriptors survey respondents used when describing St. John. Beautiful, expensive, peaceful, quiet, and community were the most commonly used words.
“These descriptors are made for a tourism brochure,” said Gundersen. “From the other islands we saw secondary words like ‘challenging.’ I see ‘difficult’ here for St. John, but there are so many positive descriptors. It’s really quite admirable.”
St. John respondents ranked the island’s crime rate as the highest positive aspect of current conditions, and housing affordability as the most negative. Other positive conditions on St. John included resident attitude, quality of life, high-speed internet, acceptance of change, and commercial and office property; negative conditions were cost of electricity, social problems, housing availability, government services, and health care.
When asked what type of jobs are the best fit for each island, all three of the main USVIs ranked agriculture as their top pick. Conservation, a category that didn’t rank in the top five on St. Thomas or St. Croix, came in as the second best type of job for the future on St. John.
“I can see why St. Johnians are concerned with conservation and natural beauty,” said EDA CEO Wayne Biggs Jr. “I was surprised to see agriculture ranked number one for St. Thomas, but I got to thinking that we’ve been through two Category 5 storms and now we have a pandemic. Food security is an issue.”
The USVI diaspora survey garnered 702 responses. School and employment were the top reasons given for leaving the territory. Four in 10 said they’d need a job opportunity in order to return to the territory; two in 10 would need to reach retirement age, and two in 10 would need a remote work option. Gundersen noted the amount of diaspora respondents who said they would consider moving back — eight out of 10 — as well as the impressive number of Virgin Islanders who took part in the surveys.
“I grew up in Detroit, and I can’t think of 8 out of 10 wanting to return,” he said. “There’s definitely a sense of, ‘this place is special,’ which is incredibly significant when we think about the development of recommendations and strategies. We don’t see the kind of response we got here in communities across the mainland. To have 2,500 residents and 700 from around the world respond shows there’s a gravitational pull to these islands that can be leveraged.”
The diaspora listed several obstacles to returning to the territory, including the reliability and cost of power and internet. Vision 2040 Manager Shanell Petersen noted a recent conversation she had with a friend who’d moved away from the territory.
“She would move back today, but she has to have reliable internet,” said Petersen of her friend.
“The pandemic has shown us that we can work remotely,” Biggs Jr. added. “Many people say they would need reliable power, and that’s something we’re going to have to work on.”
Vision 2040’s community surveys are now closed. A survey for business owners is currently available on the Vision 2040 website. The public release of Vision 2040’s plan is expected in February. To view the full resident and diaspora survey results or to complete the business owners survey, visit www.usvi2040.com.