Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham at the opening of International Distributors on Grand Bahama.
Freeport, Grand Bahama – Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham opened the International Distributers of Grand Bahamas a subsidiary company of Associated Grocers of Florida. The Prime Minister saluted the movers and shakers of The Island and assured Grand Bahamians that his government’s focus of the upward development of the island remains the prime focus of his government.
Amid a sluggish economic environment and high umemployment on Grand Bahama the Prime Minister assured the islanders that his government would do all they can to cause a speedy restoration of a booming economy on that island.
Remarks by Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham
THE PRIME MINISTER: Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very pleased to join today in the official opening of this 86,000 square foot warehouse and showroom of International Distributors of Grand Bahama a subsidiary company of Associated Grocers of Florida.
I am a child of Grand Bahama and so this is a bittersweet occasion for me.
Bittersweet, because I certainly believed back in 2002 that by this time Grand Bahama would have been a shining example of a successful mixed economy with a booming manufacturing sector, a busy air and sea transshipment business centre, and an expanded and upgraded tourism sector making you a destination of choice.
And so while I am very pleased to participate in this official opening, I am saddened that this opening is not occurring in the midst of a booming economy fueled by new job creating developments in Grand Bahama today.
It scarcely seems possible that when, ten years ago this past summer, I had the pleasure of addressing a similar gathering to this one on the occasion of the official opening of the Freeport Container Transshipment Facility, Freeport was poised for economic take-off.
At that time the Grand Bahama Port Authority was a sure and resolute development partner.
Hutchison Whampoa had already acquired the Lucaya hotel properties and commenced their substantial redevelopment and expansion; and a plethora of other investments in the tourism, light manufacturing, tourism and upscale residential sectors had restored Freeport’s broken confidence.
Then, we were looking forward with anticipation to the impact of the adjacent 700 acre industrial park between the airport and the harbour and further along to the creation of an air transshipment facility and the establishment of a significant duty free shopping facility here in Grand Bahama – all to meet a seemingly expanding and unmet demand from Central and South America and the Caribbean.
We were especially excited by the industrial park because we saw the park as the ideal location for the development of super warehouse/show room facilities for manufacturers from around the world but very especially from East Asia.
And we hoped, dared to dream, that Bahamian businesses would be attracted to the park taking advantage of the opportunities to expand local business and entrepreneurship.
In preparation for the expected population growth that we expected would flow from increased economic activity in a reinvigorated Grand Bahama we undertook, in collaboration and partnership with the Port Authority, a planned programme to upgrade infrastructure and support services in Grand Bahama.
Also two new primary schools and 2 new high schools had been constructed and plans finalized for the construction of a new junior high school.
A new school for the disabled and a new and improved home for at risk children were both commissioned before the close of 2001.
A new Sports Facility was inaugurated
I was pleased that 80% of the licensees of the Port Authority were Bahamians by 2000 and just 20% international. Only a decade before that, the numbers had been reversed.
I will admit that while most of our plans for Grand Bahama came to fruition not all of our dreams had been realized by 2002; but we had every reason to be hopeful.
The new Our Lucaya Hotel and Golf Course project had been inaugurated, the Port Authority has commenced development of improved cruise ship arrival facilities, Government had reached agreement with a number of cruise lines to expand their calls at Grand Bahama and further, and Government had agreed a formula to provide support for the construction of the new International Terminal at the Grand Bahama International Airport.
Certainly events in the last quarter of 2001 placed a pallor over some plans and slowed the vigor with which business expansions or new ventures were pursued not only in Grand Bahama but elsewhere in our country and around the region.
Then, Grand Bahama’s economy became blighted by major hurricanes in 2004 and again in 2005.
I believe that I will not be contradicted if I said that the recovery process from those storms was botched; most dramatically with regard to the closure of the Royal Oasis Resort and the virtual collapse of Freeport’s tourism sector. Now, I will not join the long line of politicians who have promised you that the solution of the Royal Oasis debacle was at hand. Time will soon tell. As we say “ain’t long now”.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I know also that I need fear no contradiction if I say that recorded investment inflows into Grand Bahama in recent years, from both the public and private sectors have been insufficient to fill the economic fallout from the 2004/05 hurricane seasons.
The rate of unemployment and under-employment in Grand Bahama is inexcusable. The number of disinterested workers who have seemingly abandoned hopes of finding employment in Grand Bahamas is intolerable.
As Government, we are firmly committed to living up to and delivering on our campaign promises.
It is important to recognize and acknowledge that positive economic development in Freeport require cooperation and collaboration between the public and private sector, most particularly with the Grand Bahama Port Authority.
In this regard I wish to pay special tribute to the late Edward St. George without whose dedication and ‘stick-ability’ Freeport would not have achieved for instance what was in fact accomplished during the last decade of the last century.
And I want to recognize the contribution of Sir Jack Hayward for his role in the development of this city over the past 40 plus years. I was very pleased in 1998 to rename the two government operated high schools in Freeport in honour of these great men who gave some of their best years to development of this city.
And so I say now that my Government looks forward to an early settlement of matters which now serve to distract the principals of the Port Authority from the business of the Port Authority and hence the business and further development and growth of Freeport.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is especially appropriate given where we are today, that I use the opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the important role being played by the Freeport Container Port in the promotion and expansion of business, and hence employment, in Grand Bahama area.
The contribution of Hutchison Whampoa has been immense during the past decade. Of course Hutchison’s contributions have not been limited to the industrial and tourist sectors. They have proven to be good corporate citizens, providing for example an apprenticeship programme in engineering for young Bahamians and contributing significantly to scholarships for Bahamians.
We are fortunate to have them as partners in Grand Bahama and we look forward to a continued and expanded relationship in the years ahead.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is only to be expected that Freeport and indeed, all of Grand Bahama are and will remain very high on my Government’s agenda.
We will bring Freeport back. As I said on the campaign trail: ‘we did it before; we will do it again’.
Today’s official opening of this state-of-the-art warehouse and show-room is welcomed.
I believe, as I was in 1998, that Freeport is ideally situated for the development of an important and successful duty-free shopping facility in response to demand from Central and South America and the Caribbean and indeed, from North America . The location of International Distributors here may be seen, I believe, as partial proof.
And while I cannot and did not promise Mr. Deffler the amendment to his licence he mused about with the media in recent times, I do believe that we in The Bahamas need to begin to seriously consider the opportunities which may come on stream for the local economy from the continued expansion of free-trade zone developments in Grand Bahama including the challenges this will present for protected segments of our economy, and the benefits to be derived by consumers around our country.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I take this opportunity to say to all in Grand Bahama: My Government is committed to supporting you in your efforts to grow and expand; we will facilitate your economic recovery.
It now gives me great pleasure to declare the International Distributors of Grand Bahama Facility officially opened.