A strong Economic Development Authority (EDA) program creates jobs, promotes safety and develops communities, and continuing to build such a foundation in the territory will also help boost the economy, officials said Thursday.
The territory’s Economic Development Commission, which administers EDA’s tax incentive program, brought current EDC beneficiaries along with various government and business representatives together on St. Croix and St. Thomas this week for conferences that highlighted EDA’s initiatives and what is being done to develop the local program.
Speakers addressed how their activities add value to the V.I. economy. They also focused on current economic trends, policy updates and the importance of having local beneficiaries comply with the terms and conditions of their EDC benefit certificates.
According to the agency’s head, Percival Clouden, over the next five years, EDC beneficiaries will contribute $163 million to the territory’s tax base.
“This is significant, as it shows the importance of the EDC program to the territory and its residents and it must not be treated lightly,” Clouden said.
Clouden said the linchpin of the organization is its eligible supplier program, which pairs existing beneficiaries with small businesses for goods and services. It is estimated that 75 beneficiaries have spent more than $163 million through the program, along with more than $13 million in capital expenditures.
EDA’s Government Development Bank program provides capital for the territory’s small businesses, while a partnership with the Small Business Development Center also offers them technical assistance. Clouden said a program through SBDC also helps small contractors with going through the performance bonding process, which they have had difficulty with.
“We have been fortunate in that we applied for a $13.1 million grant from the U.S. EDA to provide support to local banks, which would encourage them to open those pipes again for small businesses,” Clouden said. “They have been left dripping for years and it has hurt our economy.”
Clouden said with the support from the grant, EDA has seen activity, with banks granting loans “to the tune of approximately $8 million.”
According to a Government House release Thursday night, EDA has also approved 24 loan guarantee support applications, totalling $3 million, to help small businesses through local banks participating in the State Small Business Credit Initiative program.
“At the end of the third quarter of fiscal year 2014, the EDA’s statistics reveal that the approval of these loan guarantee support applications between Jan. 20, 2012 and June 30, 2014 have helped local small businesses get access to funding to help them sustain or grow their business,” according to the release. “These approvals saved 215 jobs and created 37 new jobs in the territory.”
Now, as EDA also focuses on growing St. Croix, filling its Tech Park to capacity and creating a viable marine industry that would bring in more revenue, the agency’s main goal is really to stabilize the economy and make it an aggressive competitor with other islands and states.
“We must aggressively protect and grow existing V.I. businesses while competing successfully aginst other markets for much needed new job creation, diversification from traditional industries, and expansion of our tax base,” said Stephanie J. Berry, compliance director for the Economic Development Commission, during the conference Thursday.
“We need to continue to enhance what we are doing to foster more business growth in the territory.”