After World War II, several countries rose from devastation to become economic powerhouses, and a delegation from the V.I. who attended the 2018 Smart City Summit and Expo in Taiwan dream of such a miracle for the territory as it recovers from two Category 5 hurricanes.
The United States poured $13 billion in 1950 dollars into Europe’s recovery. The territory won’t need that much but it will need substantial federal help.
Anthony Weeks, managing director of the St. Croix Economic Development Initiative (SEDI), a public policy think tank, said he sees a possibility of that help coming via a bill now moving through congress.
The bill, which was the subject of public hearings last month, would expand the Smart Cities Council’s Readiness Challenge Grants. The grants offer tailored products and services to accelerate smart city initiatives.
Weeks and Senate President Myron D. Jackson, who led the public sector representatives at the Taiwan summit, held a press conference Thursday to explain what the delegates learned on their trip.
“The Virgin Islands is at a crossroads of deciding what its future will look like and what kind of infrastructure we are going to put in place to support the type of economic prosperity for the people of the Virgin Islands to make us competitive in the 21st century,” Weeks said. “By building a smart city infrastructure we are creating the ability for the USVI to better compete, do business, and communicate in a very advanced and technological way.”
Weeks explained to the Source after the press conference how that might work. He said the territory can access the federal money through “proof of concept” pilot programs. The programs would emphasize innovative use of technology. As an example he mentioned a proposal to have an Alexander Hamilton museum on St. Croix.
“Instead of buying a building, lets make the whole of Christiansted a museum,” Weeks said.
Technology can be used, he said, to alert visitors via their cell phones of places associated with Alexander Hamilton during Christiansted walking tours. Historical information about that association can also be sent to phones.
The pilot programs can be financed by private sector money. SEDI has been negotiating with several companies – APTIM, LiteOn, Nokia and Corning – to finance such projects, according to Weeks. LiteOn manufactures consumer electronic devices and is headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan.
Although Jackson was the only senator to go to the summit, Sens. Positive T. A. Nelson, Janette Millin Young and Brian Smith also attended the press conference, which was hosted by the V. I. Economic Development Authority at the William D. Roebuck Industrial Park on St. Croix.
Representatives from WAPA, viNGN and the V.I. Bureau of Information Technology (BIT) were part of the delegation.
When asked about the cost of the conference, Jackson said the delegation did not have to pay for their airfare or hotel rooms, except for on first two days before the conference began. The conference covered the cost for Jackson because he was the head of the delegation and had been invited. If other senators had gone they would have had to pay, he added.
“The summit showcased some of the best of the world’s technology that could help us foster a sustainable environment, opportunities for our children, and prosperity for our companies and institutions,” Jackson said.
According to the delegation’s press release, “Established in 2014, the annual summit highlights Taiwan’s world-leading expertise in intelligent urban solutions and trends. Leaders around the world gathered in Taipei to exchange their experience in smart city development, innovative applications and solutions, and to communicate directly with suppliers and buyers. The summit and expo is one of the largest smart city trade shows in the Asia-Pacific region.”
The trip was a follow-up to a January visit to the V.I. by a Taiwanese delegation who were seeking business opportunities in the territory.
“It’s a total revamping of how our infrastructure is built and laid out,” Weeks said. “By integrating smart city technology into our rebuilding, we’ll be stronger, more resilient, and we’ll be in a better position to attract and create a more viable technology industry.”
On Thursday, the public also had the chance to talk to the delegates at a reception hosted by SEDI at the Club Comanche.
Jackson told the Source, “Of course Taiwan is one of the leading countries for information technology. … They are a progressive society….They have transformed their island using technology, mindful of the community’s needs.”
The delegation visited a volunteer-operated recycling plant that recycles products to make blankets and backpacks and other items.
“That is a model that has potential for the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Jackson said. “Instead of just shipping everything out of this territory.”