The Bahamas may be “open for business” from anyone, but the island nation is betting that Georgia companies will be well suited to walk through its front door.
“We will take advantage of all of the opportunities and the technical assistance and the joint ventures and the transfer of knowledge that we hope to be able to garner,” Ambassador Sidney S. Collie said in opening an investment roadshow in the Southeast that included stops in Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta.
Among the sectors targeted are those in which Georgia excels: agriculture, technology, health care, financial services and more. The business exposé, the country’s first in Atlanta, was the brainchild of Atlanta-based Bahamian Consul General Astra Armbrister-Rolle.
Accompanying Mr. Collie was a slate of high-level government officials who spoke at a joint event with the World Trade Center Atlanta on the opportunities offered by the Bahamas’ enduring strategic location as well as recent changes to its regulatory environment.
Michael Pintard, minister of agriculture and marine resources, kicked off a panel discussion moderated by Nelson Mullins Of Counsel Bill Poole by inviting researchers looking to conduct agricultural studies.
“We are interested in signing MOUs with you so that you can come to the Bahamas and study a wide range of crops, livestock, to look at ways that we can increase yield, to engage in hydroponics, mariculture and aquaculture,” he said.
He also touched on the broader business climate: Sweeping into power in 2017, the Free National Movement saw the need to refine its approach to business formation in general and particularly, its outreach to foreign investors.
“It took too long for foreign investors to be approved for their investment,” said J. Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for the island of Grand Bahama. “We also found that there was no direction with respect to going after specific investments.”
The response was the Commercial Enterprises Act of 2017 passed last December by the FNM’s massive majority in parliament. The act offers a variety of privileges for Bahamians and foreigners alike, but it’s particularly helpful for foreign companies investing more than $250,000 to create new entities or enter into joint ventures with Bahamian partners. It also allows the minister for financial services to create special economic zones designated for certain activities, a move that has drawn some opposition.
Qualifying firms get their work-permit applications fast-tracked so that they can more easily bring in managers to get their business off the ground. If their application isn’t answered in within 14 days, it’s deemed to be approved — not the other way around.
Mr. Pintard added that the English-speaking nation doesn’t face as big of a problem as some others with corruption. Indeed, it ranks No. 28 in the world, just behind Chile and ahead of Portugal, on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
“We have no expectation of an personal inducements or offerings,” Mr. Pintard said. “We prefer to do (business deals) always on the top of the table.”
Zhivargo Laing, a former cabinet member who is now executive director of the Government and Public Policy Institute at the University of the Bahamas, said sometimes the inducements are so strong for foreign companies that locals sometimes complain on his daily radio show.
But it’s necessary, he said, to show the world that the country is serious about welcoming new vitality into its economy.
“When you need something, you pay attention to it; you do the necessary to accommodate it,” Mr. Laing said, adding to his pitch by noting that the Bahamas has no personal income tax or capital-gains tax. Earnings can be repatriated with no issues, as capital controls mainly apply to Bahamians themselves, not foreign investors.
One of the specific locales aiming to build on its success is Grand Bahama island, home to the city of Freeport, a free-trade zone administered by a private entity that has won awards for efficiency.
On Nov. 14 the island will play host to a three-day technology summit welcoming the likes of Cisco, Oracle, Dell, VMWare and other companies in a forum that will include top players from Bahamian utilities, port authorities and more. The event is to be headlined by Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
Derek Newbold, senior manager of Bahamas development for the Grand Bahamas Port Authority, said at the Atlanta event that his island would welcome firms from across the industry spectrum, from medical clinics (the island is approved for stem-cell therapies, for instance) to firms that would like to use the Bahamas for Caribbean or trans-Atlantic distribution centers. Incentives are viable in warehousing, business-process outsourcing, real estate and information technology.
“When you come to Freeport to conduct business, you will find that there is a streamlined process by virtue of a one-stop shop environment,” Mr. Newbold said.
Overall, the Bahamas is also upgrading its educational system, with plans to improve technical and vocational education, provide summer jobs for high schoolers through government-sponsored programs and by next September offering free tuition to the University of The Bahamas for all students who enroll.
“We believe it is in our economic interest. It is absolutely necessary if we are going to compete in the global community that our workforce have comparable skills,” said Mr. Pintard, the agriculture minister.
And if the ambassador is to be believed, Georgia will have a chance to help shape that process for a long time.
“We promise we will be following up with Atlanta in the months and years to come,” Mr. Collie said.
The full list of sectors covered under the Commercial Enterprise Act:
- Captive Insurance
- Mutual Fund Administration
- Wealth Management
- International Trade
- International Arbitrage
- Computer Programming
- Software Design and Writing
- Bioinformatics and Analytics
- Maritime Trade
- Biomedical Industries
- Boutique Health Facilities
- Data Storage or Warehousing
- Aviation Approved Maintenance Operations
- Aviation Registration
- Call Centres
- Manufacturing or Assembly of Manufactures