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Friday, February 3, 2023


Oct. 26, 2001 — The push to get legislation for a University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park through the Senate began Thursday in the Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee.
The UVI plan envisions a 100-acre Silicon Valley-type community on St. Croix where off-island high-tech businesses would hire up to 200 locals and improve the overall economy of the territory. A main feature of the park would be the proximity of two high-speed fiber-optic communication links –– Global Crossing and AT&T –– that run through the island.
In early October, Orville Kean, UVI president, said speedy approval of the proposal would ensure that top representatives from 40 to 50 of the nation’s leading tech universities and companies, such as Microsoft, Stanford, KPMG, AT&T, IBM, Deutsche Bank and Sun Microsystems, could attend a forum on the project in December.
But Sen. Adelbert Bryan, the committee chair, was adamant that language in the proposed bill identify St. Croix as the island where most of the activity will take place. Even though UVI is asking the government to reserve land for the technology park on St. Croix, he was skeptical.
"We say certain things on the record," Bryan said, "but the legislation looks different."
Dean Plaskett, commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources and chair of the Economic Development Authority, which would grant tax breaks to businesses setting up shop in the technology park, concurred with Bryan.
"I am glad to hear the focus of this project is St. Croix," Plaskett said, adding that he would like to see it formalized in writing.
Auguste Rimpel, chair of the UVI Board of Trustees, agreed that St. Croix should be the main focus but said St. Thomas shouldn’t be shut out. He said he wanted to collaborate on the effort.
"For God’s sake, let get this thing moving," Rimpel said in response to Bryan’s threat not to support the legislation if it didn’t specifically recognize St. Croix. "I hope it doesn’t become a turf thing."
The committee also took testimony on a bill that would require businesses receiving tax exemptions from the Economic Development Commission or exempted from excise taxes to establish retirement and welfare benefit plans for employees.
Plaskett was leery of the proposal, saying it could hinder the EDA in negotiations with prospective investors. He also said small EDA beneficiaries may be adversely affected by the cost.
"I think the appropriate way to handle this thing is on a case-by-case basis," Plaskett said. "We have no problem with major corporations. Small companies with 10 or less employees will be damaged."
Sen. Vargrave Richards agreed, saying certain demands can be imposed on larger businesses, but companies with two to 12 workers -– particularly start-up companies -– would be hurt.
"I think it means the death knell to the small businesses," Richards said.
Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuels, who sponsored the bill, disagreed. She said the proposal doesn’t limit the EDA in what it can negotiate with investors. "This is a minimum we want for our people," she said.
The bill was voted favorably and forwarded to the Rules Committee.
A bill to enact the Virgin Islands Economic and Employment Recovery Act will be heard Friday when the committee meets on St. Thomas.

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