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THINGS TO FOCUS ON FROM THE BOTTOM UP

The Virgin Islands, and St. Croix in particular, could be poised for a spectacular rebound from the economic morass that has encompassed and threatened to bankrupt the territory. There has been news, albeit in small quantities, about potential financial growth possibilities and growth in the private sector.
If this latest financial crisis has proven anything, it is that reliance on the government for a large percentage of overall employment is not only risky; it is unsustainable. While we are hovering near the bottom of the barrel — if not on the bottom — financially, we should address some issues that could become prickly on our way up.
The first issue on the agenda should be the perception of political ties between former elected and appointed officials and private industry. Do we really expect that every elected official will shun the opportunity to work in a field in which he or she developed an expertise while in the public's service? I, for one, do not. However, drafting a clear set of ethics guidelines for current government officials dealing with former government officials representing the private sector in negotiations would ease the strain of perceived corruption.
Fortunately for all of us, the Internal Revenue Service is now sorting out the Economic Development Authority's guidelines for EDC benefits. Until now, companies were left to attempt to guess at the provisions of the law on their own. Did some of those companies abuse the law? Maybe, but I know of many of those companies that are forthright and open about their business and generate great sources of revenue in the community.
The issue of the gross-receipts tax is another that should be reconsidered as we make our economic rebound. This is a tax that stymies local efforts to create businesses with high profit margins. If anything, the recent scare with the potential damage to Kapok Management should have made local government officials aware that they must not only build their EDC base, but also work to create sustainable local industry. To that end, promoting local ownership of sustainable industries through creative tax incentives is not only wise; it is critical to continuing growth in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Finally, the delegate to Congress should never be scolded, nor maligned, for working to attract more business to the Virgin Islands. What business executives in their right mind would want the delegate to be neutral in matters of business attraction? So she hosted a conference and some public officials were caught engaging in sordid activities. Has that never before happened in American history? The delegate should be encouraged to continue efforts to attract sustainable enterprises to the Virgin Islands.
While on the subject, I believe that the most sustainable industry for St. Croix is heritage and nature tourism. Sure, we could build five-star resorts with massive casinos, but we would only be creating jobs. With heritage and nature tourism, we can create business owners. I believe that the delegate can attract both technology and heritage and nature sustainable industries to these islands with no conflict. With some solid forethought, this economy can be rebuilt. The key is to rebuild it in a way that makes all of us proud of one another's efforts.

Editor's note: Bill Turner is a writer, a former history teacher and the executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association. He writes a daily commentary on events in the Virgin Islands that can be accessed at V.I. Buzz.
We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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