By K. NANCOO-RUSSELL
Freeport News Reporter
United States Embassy officials are in Grand Bahama this week and say they hope to assess what the island's economic situation is and determine if they can be of assistance.
Spokesperson Jefferson Dubel said it would be in The Bahamas' and the United States' best interest to ensure that the island is thriving.
"We read in the paper that it is not very good - bleak, dire and we wanted to see for ourselves and see if there is anything we can do to help because it's beneficial to both the U.S. and The Bahamas that this is a vibrant place. A lot of Americans come here as tourists. A lot of Americans come here as secondary or tertiary home owners and a lot of Americans come here as business partners," he said.
He pointed out that there was over $14 billion in direct U.S. investment in The Bahamas in 2008 alone.
"That's pretty significant when you look at it. That's in The Bahamas as a whole but I'm sure a large portion of that comes here (Grand Bahama). So we want to make sure that if there's anything we can do to facilitate that, we can."
Dubel said the Embassy is working toward attracting more American businesses to The Bahamas.
"In order to do that we have to know what some of those impediments are and why they aren't doing it and that's what we've been listening to for the last couple of days, business owners themselves talking about what are some of the problems, why they aren't investing here in The Bahamas," he said.
"I'll be honest. There are a couple things that stand out and one is the electricity costs and that is something we're working on. That's probably one of the ambassador's priority issues - alternative energy and I think that would go a long way towards one, reducing the cost and giving you a more stable, clean platform, not only environmentally clean but so that there's less spikes."
He noted that in October, The Bahamas will host the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum at the Atlantis Resort, which is expected to bring together Americans, Bahamians and representatives from other Caribbean countries to discuss ways to address their energy problems and to look for solutions.
"The most important part about that conference is we're going to bring people that have those technologies readily available today, that you could partner with and maybe move forward on some renewable energies," he said.
The Embassy coordinates several initiatives that are geared toward encouraging business, he added, including hosting entrepreneurial workshops where prominent American businesspersons are brought in to make presentations about doing business and to network with local businesspersons.
"We also have a commercial section that sets up trips to the states for franchise shows and the like. The way that the average Bahamian can learn about that is to go to our website, or sign up for our facebook," he said.
"We're advocating back in the U.S. that this is a good place to do business and one of the ways we do that, is with a guide that tells how to do business. It's a public document so that American businesses can find there, what the regulations are, what some of the difficulties are, some of the ways to overcome those, contacts, and other tips to facilitate businesses."
Economic officer Brooke Moppert explained that the embassy serves as a liaison between American businesses seeking to expand their product into The Bahamas and local businesses.
"If they want our assistance, we provide several services for them including market research, or partner searches. We connect them with Bahamian businessmen and women who would best facilitate their product in this market."
Likewise, the embassy also seeks to lend assistance to local businesses as they consider the option of doing business with American companies.
" If you go on our website, nassau.usembassy.gov and go to the link resources, you''ll find a section of the commercial services that we provide. There will be a lot of helpful information as well as a link to sign up for our quarterly promotional newsletter, which gives opportunities on what we've been doing, opportunities out there and it highlights U.S. Bahamian partnerships every month, real life people that members of the business community can go to, to talk about their experiences in working with U.S. businessowners."
Dubel said it was important for residents of the Family Islands to know that the embassy is not "Nassau centric," but rather is interested in expanding its reach outside of the capital.
"You can pick up the phone at any time, you can call us. Businesses should feel that they could do those kind of things," he said.
According to Dubel, there were several concerns expressed by Grand Bahamians during previous visits by embassy officials, which the embassy has sought to address.
"A lot of the complaints we heard were that the preclearance facility at the airport. There were two checkpoints. Was there anything we could do about that? Last week we were able to remove one of those checkpoints so that should speed up getting people through the airport, make it faster," he said.
"The other one we worked on was preclearance for general aviation aircraft, and Bahamians working with our Department of Homeland Security had moved forward on that. Your Parliament passed the General Aviation Agreement, I think about four months ago, and it's now back in Washington being reviewed. Hopefully we'll move forward on that. It's up to the Bahamian government to decide where they want to put it."
There has been much speculation about whether that facility will be located in Grand Bahama.
Dubel said, he believes it could be a significant asset in helping to increase the volume of traffic to the island.
Another issue that has been raised consistently by residents of Grand Bahama is that of the introduction of a consular service on the island, he added.
"I don't think that's going to happen, because the volume doesn't justify it but it's something we listen to. We do try to make it easy for Grand Bahamians. If they want to, they can do their registration online. You don't have to spend a couple of days in Nassau. You can come do your interview, leave and then we can courier the passport back to you so that will maybe cut down some of the expenses you would have to pay," he explained.