A new 20-year economic development plan, “Vision 2040,” includes a wide-ranging list of goals for the Virgin Islands, including full employment, 1,100 net new jobs each year until 2030, a 10% population increase, an increase in the rate of locally-sourced food from 3% to 35%, and an increase the percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources from the current 1% to 75%.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced the release of the 283-page plan alongside Economic Development Authority CEO Wayne Biggs Jr. and consultants from Camoin 310, the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based economic development firm hired to assist in its creation. Biggs has said the territory received $1.6 million in federal grant funding for the initiative.
“A comprehensive plan for economic development has to include the entire community, and this plan does that. Our administration is making investments in our infrastructure, our workforce, and toward diversifying our fragile economy. A long-term plan such as Vision 2040 gives us a road map for how and what those investments should look like,” Bryan said.
Bryan, who has previously served as EDA board chairman and whose wife, Yolanda Bryan, earns $75,000 a year as EDA business ambassador, highlighted the Vision 2040 plan in his January 2019 State of the Territory address, and said it would be ready by October of that year.
Government House Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. said in October 2020 that the initial consultant and the relevant government agencies couldn’t come to an agreement, so a new request for proposals was issued in June of 2020, and Camoin 310 was selected and signed an agreement in September.
The cost of the plan was previously pegged at $431,995, and funded “as part of the federal recovery grants following the devastating Irma and Maria Hurricanes of 2017,” Motta said at the time.
Funding came from the U.S. Economic Development Administration with matching funds from a U.S. Department Housing Urban Development Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery administered by the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.
The plan released last week calls for “economic diversification that substantially grows the economy while reducing the territory’s dependence on tourism,” according to an EDA news release. “At the same time, the tourism sector itself would grow but would involve more ‘V.I. Style Tourism,’ focusing on extended stays in which visitors experience authentic Virgin Islands features such as its heritage, culture, adventure and wellness, among others.”
Other “aspirational goals” in the plan include a healthcare and health sciences sector that more than doubles from seven percent to 15 percent of the territory’s gross domestic product, development of higher education, and “the establishment of the USVI as a Blue Economy research center of Excellence for ocean-based tropical environments,” according to the EDA. Developers solicited input from Virgin Islanders living at home and abroad, and “some 2,500 residents and more than 700 former residents heeded the call,” according to the EDA. “The response was phenomenal,” Biggs said in a statement.
Respondents said living in the Virgin Islands is bittersweet, and cited the positives, “deep sense of community, the natural beauty, friends, family, and more,” as well as the negatives, “such as lack of opportunity and family-sustaining jobs, high cost of living, food insecurity, poverty, inadequate health care and crime,” according to the EDA news release.
The vast majority, 87%, of businesses said the business climate is problematic — citing COVID-19 restrictions, licensing and Internal Revenue Bureau regulations, and high taxes, specifically gross receipts. “The cost of living, the need for educated/skilled workers and obtaining capital were also cited,” according to the EDA.
The plan identifies eight target industries and economic activities as areas of focus: agribusiness, coastal and ocean resources, renewable energy, health sciences, light manufacturing, professional and technical services, research and development, and tourism. Surveys of the diaspora found that some of these former territorial residents had been away for as long as 30 years.
But invariably, they referred to the Virgin Islands as home, and an astonishing 80 percent of them said that, given the right conditions, they would move back.
The entire plan can be found at www.usvi2040.com.