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V.I. Leaders Attend Economic Development Conference

Sept. 30, 2004 – In an effort to foster relationships between territories and businesses that want to open shop in off-shore locations, the Interior Department held a two-day conference last week in Los Angeles.
"We have gathered for one reason: To learn more about the win-win business opportunities found on our U.S. affiliated islands: America's territories and freely associated states," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said in her remarks to the 1,000 people gathered at the Marriott Hotel for the conference. Participants included island heads of state, governors, business executives and private-sector officials spearheading numerous investment and trade initiatives.
"There is as much business potential as there is beauty on those islands and that is considerable," she said.
Norton said helping the territories and associated states realize their economic potential and ensuring that they are wise stewards of federal funds were top priorities.
"We have made a sustained effort to help the islands highlight their many untapped opportunities and possibilities, and this conference is a centerpiece of our ongoing effort," she said.
Interior Department spokesman Keith Parsky said Tuesday that the conference built on a similar conference held last year that drew about half the number of people.
He said an eight-month study to identify needs and opportunities followed the first conference. Contacts with businesses that might want to set up shop in the territories or associated states as well as attend this year's conference followed.
"We did a lot of advance work," Parsky said.
He said that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull told the business leaders at the conference that the territory fosters private businesses.
Norton pointed out in her remarks that the territories and associated states are politically stable and use U.S. currency.
"They have U.S. protection but are free to select their own courses of development," she said.
She also noted that English is spoken in all locations and that the residents are well educated.
Norton pointed out that tourism is the largest contributor to the economy of the Virgin Islands. She said St. Thomas receives most of the tourists, but noted that St. Croix also has a number of great attractions. She didn't mention St. John.
She pointed out that St. Croix now has a 10,000-foot runway at its airport, which allows large-load planes to land and, hopefully, bring more visitors.
Parsky said that the Virgin Islands sent a large delegation of government and business leaders. He said that in addition to Turnbull, Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards attended.
The conference included participants from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the Virgin Islands.
The 2003 conference drew companies from 33 states and territories, including California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Washington, Hawaii, South Carolina, Georgia and Puerto Rico. Among the industries represented were environmental technology, information technology, construction, education and training, real estate development, tourism, shipping, energy and professional services, according to the Department of the Interior.
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