Business is booming in the United States Virgin Islands
Throughout the month of May, newly-elected Governor of the United States Virgin Islands Albert Bryan Jr. (D) has been making his case for the territory’s resurgent economy. This coincided with the release of his first fiscal year budget proposal that was released on May 30.
During May at the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit in Miami, the Governor, who traveled to the States with some of his key cabinet and policy makers, made an enthusiastic pitch to investors that right now is the time to invest in the US Virgin Islands.
“Right now we have opportunities in the Virgin Islands where you can take your capital out and get a tax deferment, [that’s] a US tax deferment, for 10 years. Anything you make from that money, you get that tax-free as well, and any of the dividends from that money is tax-free,” Bryan told conference attendees. “We’re going through tremendous growth.”
Bryan’s message is rooted in his territories tourism industry, a major talking point during the election, that he has now started to turn into policy initiatives and action.
Besides the continued restoration of many of the islands key resorts and tourist destinations that were destroyed during Hurricane Irma, the territory is also investing in new projects. These include, a $40 million waterfront project on St. Thomas, and a $20 million upgrade to the Cyril E. King Airport and Mainstreet on St. Thomas island.
Bryan has also made it a point of emphasis to talk about his planned projects for St. Croix and St. John island, who at times can be neglected by their big brother island of St. Thomas.
“On St. Croix, lots of things are happening there as well. A $33 million stadium is going in in Frederiksted. Lots of incentives are coming up now where we’re able to do our ‘One Town Frederiksted,’ which is our main cruise port, to encourage the building of Airbnb’s,” Bryan said.
Bryan’s last point is also noteworthy. His administration has focused on increasing Airbnb rentals on the islands, as a means to supplement the lack of available hotel rooms on the islands after the hurricane, as well as allowing citizens a chance to more directly benefit from the islands’ tourism industry.
In addition to boosting overnight stays on the islands, Bryan has also worked to secure more flights to the territory, especially to St. Croix. At a Delta Airlines conference in Atlanta in early May he said, “It was encouraging to hear how confident Delta’s team is about our product and that they are keen to work with us to bolster Atlanta–St. Croix flights to pre-storm levels when we were experiencing an uptick in demand to the ‘Big Island.’”
Governor Bryan’s whirlwind tour showing off the US Virgin Islands took place directly before his FY 2020 budget was released on May 30. This is Bryan’s first budget proposal and it highlights some of his key campaign pledges, while outlining a future of economic stability and prosperity for the islands.
His proposed FY 2020 budget would total $1.2 billion in expenditures, which include $69 million in debt servicing, $240 million in federal funds, and $940 million in local funds.
The budget reflects a cautious optimism portrayed by Bryan. He has maintained that the economy is thriving, while also advocating prudent spending, arguing that the recent economic revival stems from the recovery efforts of 2017. If the territory is to continue growing, the governor wants to pay down the territory’s debts, while continuing to support local businesses and infrastructure projects.
“There is a lot of economic activity around the recovery, but that is not permanent, so we need to get out there and do the necessary things and pay down the debt of this government,” Governor Bryan said at a cabinet meeting in late May.
His budget also includes the needed funds for a previously agreed upon wage increase negotiated under the previous administration of Governor Kenneth Mapp (I). That increase will total $41 million.
Other notable budget earmarks includes a sizable increase for the territory’s Fire Services, and a marked increase toward mental health services for those who are in or at risk of entering the justice system.
The next step in the process will be to have the budget approved by the islands’ legislature, where Bryan and his Democratic Party hold a majority.