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Organizer Expects Concrete Results from Economic Summit

The economic summit that took place in Washington, D.C., on Friday was not another fruitless talking session, said one of the organizers, who expects to see concrete results from the gathering, and soon.

Loán Sewer is a native of St. Thomas who now lives and works in Maryland, in the metro D.C. area. She and other members of the USVI Alliance and the 340 Group organized the meeting in the nation’s capitol to bring together Virgin Islanders now living and running successful businesses in the states with government officials to explore how to help the territory they still consider home.

One such proposal came during a concluding session when conference participants were brainstorming ideas they could implement right away. A New York executive with a St. Croix-based business told the group he would be willing to "adopt" a school on each of the three main islands. The session was full of ideas like that, Sewer said. Together, they can make a difference to the V.I., and the alliance will be standing by to make sure they happen, she said.

"We don’t have the roadmap yet, but … we can be that catalyst to be sure that happens," Sewer said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

She said the idea for the summit came when she realized that over the last six months she had been fielding more and more phone calls from people wondering what official or department could help with a proposal. They knew she had once been press secretary for Delegate Donna M. Christensen.

"People knew – even if I didn’t have the answers – I had contacts with people who did," she said.

Sewer also has firsthand experience with local politics. Her mother, Dr. Ruby Simmonds Esannason, was a member of the V.I. Senate. Her father, Lawrence R. Sewer, is a retired educator and local businessman.

Loán Sewer is a marketing and branding consultant, the managing partner of Vibrant Design Group LLC, and has lived in the states for 20 years. But to her the V.I. is still "home." And she’s not alone, she said.

There is a strong community of Virgin Islanders in the states and, when they get together socially, they concentrate on what’s happening in the territory and what they might be able to offer.

"Many of us want to be part of the problem solving," she said. "Many people who live away don’t know how to connect … and you don’t always get the support you need. All we want to do is bring the success we’ve had back home," Sewer said.

The various queries she received led to the formation of the USVI Alliance, a group of individuals from the V.I., and the summit was organized together with the 340 Group LLC – another business group of stateside Virgin Islanders who consult on V.I. business opportunities, mentor and assist students from the territory with their college applications, and provide scholarships for college-bound V.I. students. Sewer said the planning was accomplished in a couple of months, with corporate sponsors providing most of the funding.

About 200 people attended a Thursday night welcoming reception that showcased a jazz ensemble of island musicians now working in the states and the Capitol Quadrille Dancers. About 160 people attended the next day’s summit.

The presentations included panel discussions and presentations by V.I. government and business leaders, including Christensen; Gov. John deJongh Jr.; Percival Clouden of the Economic Development Authority; David Zumwalt of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park; Cornel Williams of International Capital and Management Co.; Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan; Larry Kupfer of the V.I. Next Generation Network; acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory; Karl Knight of the V.I. Energy Office; Joseph Boschulte of the West Indies Corporation; and Kevin Callwood of Callwood Associates.

These individuals were brought together with scores of people interested in getting involved in the territory, Sewer said.

"I met an attendee from New York who told me, ‘This is incredible. I’ve been wanting to talk to these people and it would have taken me two weeks on-island to do what I did today,’" she said.

Sewer said the conference and the USVI Alliance will provide impetus for more activities, a way to match successful business people and project managers in the states with opportunities in the islands. The alliance is already setting up a website, which should be online by the end of the week, that will provide a channel of information to and from the islands and the stateside business community, she said.

"People told me it was informative; they were glad they came. A gentleman who came from Pennsylvania said it was well worth his time to be there," Sewer said.

DeJongh, who gave the conference’s keynote luncheon address, said the summit was an opportunity for both the territory and the stateside V.I. community.

“The economic development summit provided a tremendous opportunity to discuss exactly what is going on in the territory in a very coordinated way," he said. "The tone of the event was educational and positive, and allowed for frank and open discussions of the business opportunities available in the territory, especially in the areas of telecommunications, energy, education, housing and health care."

Christensen gave the opening remarks Friday morning, pointing out the many challenges that affect the territory today but also looking optimistically of the economic future of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“I continue to be optimistic that we are on the cusp of not only a strong recovery but of giant leaps into a 21st century of great promise,” she told the gathering.

Sponsors of the summit included Diageo USVI, The Buccaneer, Orbitel, Southland Gaming, International Capital and Management, Beam Inc., the Bostonia Group, the West Indies Corp., and the USVI Economic Development Authority.

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