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CONFERENCE TO FOCUS ON INVESTING IN TERRITORIES

Aug. 11, 2003 – U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, her deputy for insular affairs, and his special adviser for economic policy see the Virgin Islands and three other U.S. territories as offering incentives for business investment that should be highly attractive to companies looking to expand into new markets.
Among them they cite:
– Tax benefits and grant programs unavailable anywhere else.
– Profit opportunities unknown to most businesses.
– Risk-free bases with advantages generally available only in foreign jurisdictions.
– Political stability, excellent telecommunications systems, and the U.S. legal system and currency.
– Skilled labor forces and flexibility on wages and immigration.
To promote the territories' potential, Norton will host an investment development conference for the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands a month from now in Washington, D.C.
Norton announced on Monday that the conference — the first of its kind — will take place on Sept. 8 and 9. It will "bring leaders from the federal and territorial governments together with businesses and financial experts to help showcase the unique opportunities that the territories offer potential investors," she said.
While visiting the territory for a week in April, Norton noted during a press conference that the Virgin Islands economy had been hurt by the dropoff in tourism that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She said then that she was planning a conference to bring together investors and V.I. businesses as a way to help ease the situation.
According to David Cohen, Interior deputy assistant secretary for insular affairs, the conference will "offer companies the chance to learn the special advantages of doing business in the U.S. territories and profit opportunities unknown to most businesses."
Cohen said the territories "offer incentives unavailable anywhere else, including special tax benefits, special grant programs and unique flexibility on wages and immigration."
According to a release from the Interior Department, it is anticipated that the conference participants will include David A. Sampson, assistant secretary of Commerce for economic development; the governors of the territories; members of Congress; and the Northern Marianas resident representative in Washington.
Also expected to take part are José Fourquet, executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank; John A. Emens, U.S. Export-Import Bank vice president for trade finances and insurance; officials from the Asian Development Bank and "valuable contacts from the world of business and finance," the release stated.
"There will be opportunities for one-on-one meetings with the governors and for meetings with potential local partners, financiers, regulators and experts from government, the private sector and academia," it said.
Ramona Jones, Cohen's economic policy special adviser, said that "with a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual workforce, companies can set up safe, risk-free bases in the United States while enjoying incentives that are generally only available in foreign jurisdictions."
Jones said that "the territories are politically stable, carry no currency risk, have excellent telecommunications systems [and] international airports, and are protected by the American legal system." She added that they are "visited each year by millions of tourists from around the world" and that each "has a skilled labor force."
Companies looking to expand to new markets will be able to explore business opportunities by locating in the territories, Jones said.
The Virgin Islands is home to the largest petroleum refinery in the Western Hemisphere, she pointed out. American Samoa boasts the world's largest tuna processing plant, the Northern Marianas has a well-established garment industry, and Guam offers a stable investment climate with a strong U.S. military presence.
Among the topics to be covered at the conference are financing and procurement, industrial parks; water, wastewater, solid waste and recycling infrastructure; privatization and public-private partnering; marine industries; manufacturing and exporting, information and communication technology; professional services; mediation and arbitration; educational institutions; and tourism options including cultural and environmental focuses, the cruise sector and theme parks.
"Immediate investment opportunities in these areas will be showcased in the panels and during breakout sessions," the release stated.
The program includes presentations by representatives of the territories' Chambers of Commerce, Economic Development Authorities and colleges and universities.
Conference participants also are invited to set up exhibit booths. "There is no cost to attend the conference or to exhibit, thanks to sponsorship by the U.S. Department of the Interior," the Web site states.
For more details and registration information, visit the Interior Department's Investment Development Conference Web site.

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