Envisioning a Virgin Islands economic development strategy

What is relevant when producing an economic  development strategy?

A meaningful strategy is a visioning exercise that defines a community’s economic aspirations based on its values.

The strategy harnesses existing or realistic opportunities to available resources and pursues desired outcomes.  It considers those desired outcomes in the context of community values and aspirations.

No one person or even a small group of community members should try to define those aspirations.  The process requires bottom-up development.  Aspirations should represent the broadest possible expression of community stakeholders as well as engage the community in its development. Too often the process is highjacked by special interests and reflects limited community-wide subscription.  In these instances stakeholder groups as well as the community itself is unwilling to make the required commitment to see the strategy to fruition.

Stakeholders– government, various economic sectors of the community, civil society, community institutions and organizations—all need to be involved in defining what is in their respective and, by extension, collective best interest. Success is achieved when relevant stakeholders know they have a role in developing the final product. 

The action plan, the essential element of any development strategy, identifies specific goals that when achieved reflects success. 

The plan component, objectives, lays out the path that gets you to where you want to be.  The action plan, needs to be concrete, measurable and cumulative.  Component elements of the plan can and should be pursued concurrently.  Each addresses a specific objective. Individually pursued, these aggregate and address the longer-term ambition that the strategy outlines. 

Plans should not be static.  There should be an ongoing process that evaluates progress and makes changes to best address unfolding reality.  And, elements of the plan should be realistic and achievable.  Success provides the impetus to subsequently tackle more ambitious plans.

Another important consideration is having a circumscribed time period for the development strategy. The limitation of any visioning initiative is that it is done from the perspective of what is known. 

In the context of a strategy development, the term ‘long term’ may seem paradoxical because long-term thinking in this respect is at best 5-8 years.  Anything beyond that time frame is unlikely to be responsive to tomorrow’s needs.  The period visioned and addressed should, therefore, be long enough to allow for evaluating successes, but short enough that it only targets challenges and sets goals reflective of reality.    

Most action plans will also address needed capital investment in infrastructure.  Whereas the development strategy focuses on a more limited time horizon these capital investments represent truly long-term commitment of resources to community development, which go beyond a given strategy’s time horizons.  Investments in infrastructure are foundational and when well planned and executed benefit and support not only current but also future strategies and action plans. 

Finally, any effective development strategy must be actively managed.  With the passage of time ongoing adjustments and modifications will be required.  Understanding when changes  are needed increases the opportunity for successful outcomes. 

Active management also provides the community the needed eye on how effectively action plans are  implemented.  Management provides the community a vehicle that ensures challenges are addressed as these arise and that stakeholders are well informed.  Management, therefore, requires transparent processes and procedures for monitoring and addressing implementation as well as for timely communicating with community stakeholders.

Below are ten critical elements for developing a responsive economic development strategy.

  • Understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of the community
  • Identify and engage community-based focus groups to advise on draft statements of principles, which will help define the strategy and the related action plans
  • Develop statements of principles that address:
    • Community values
    • Business and industry
    • Desired and required community enhancements including social services
    • Infrastructure needs
  • Develop companion action plans tied to achieving particular objectives, each plan element being specific and having measurable outcomes.  These action plan elements should address:
    • Business and industry attraction, retention and growth
    • Workforce availability and preparedness
    • Community physical and social improvements
    • Government responsibility
    • Non-government stakeholders responsibility
    • Resource commitment (public and private)
  • Obtain community feedback on statement of principles and action plans
  • Obtain government executive and legislative buy-in
  • Designate lead agency for monitoring and reporting progress against plan
  • Designate a private/public oversight and management advisory board to oversee implementation
  • Define and promulgate monitoring and public communication protocols
  • Require transparency and consistency of reporting on progress and achievements

Specific to the Virgin Islands, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are previously identified in numerous recent analyses and below restated.


·      US Dependency ·      Limited land mass ·     Build off of existing petroleum storage facility presence ·      Natural disasters (i.e., hurricanes, seismic activity )
·      US law ·      High cost of potable water ·      Build off of existing distilled product manufacturing  ·      Government insolvency and related erosion of government services
·      Effective air transportation system ·      High cost of electricity ·      Build on nascent financial and management services industry ·      US tax law changes
·      Effective marine cargo transportation system  ·      Productivity of workforce ·      Exploit diverse and rich historical legacy in tourism product ·      US recession, depression, disinflation or inflation
·      Strategic geographic location ·      Small size of workforce ·      University presence and select research capability ·      Government imposed restrictions on air, cruise,  yacht  or ship movement
·      Adequate vehicular road system ·      Aging workforce ·      Access to US financial system and capital markets ·      Work actions impacting transportation providers (cargo, cruise and air)
·      Technology readiness– broadband connectivity and www. access •     Limited health care resources ·      Preference US/ USVI customs zone ·      Civil unrest and/or degradation of personal and property security
·      Telephone and mobile wireless connectivity •   Limited public transportation ·      Jones Act exemption ·      Inability to maintain responsive utility services (electric, water, waste management)
·      Private K-12 education  ·       K-12 public education system ·      EDC tax incentive program ·      Environmental degradation
·      University of the Virgin Islands and RT Park ·      Availability of affordable housing ·      Opportunity Zone financing ·      Banking failure or operating restrictions
·      Tropical climate ·      Seasonal hurricane exposure ·      Renewable and alternative energy production  
·      Population diversity ·      Seismic zone   ·      Product recycling   
·      Easy access to ocean sports and activities ·      Access to broad based arts and culture offerings     
•     Readily available, privately owned petroleum product supply and storage capacity ·      Small civic and community organizations, foundations, institutions    
·     Distilled product  production and storage facilities ·      Dependence on imports of food and consumer goods    
·      Competitive hospitality offerings ·      Absence of raw of intermediate products for use in manufacturing or production    
  ·      Cumbersome business regulatory environment    
  ·      Insufficient investment in infrastructure and economic development    
  ·      Ciguatera fish poisoning    
  ·      Cost of property and business insurance     
  ·      High cost of doing business     

Ensure the appropriate stakeholders are included in the plan development and implementation.

  • Education providers ( schools and university)
  • Health system providers
  • Public safety providers
  • Utility providers
  • Transportation providers
  • Community and non-profit organizations and neighborhood associations
  • Business associations including hotel and retailers, professional groupings, chamber of commerce
  • Government agencies
  • Media

Specific to the Virgin Islands, rigorously explore opportunities for growth and expansion in economic areas where the community has already made headway and are logical extensions of those areas or where the opportunity for serving local and regional markets exists. 

  • Tourism diversification (history, culture, boating, yachting, deep sea fishing, sports, marine adventure, ecotourism)
  • Visitor segmentation (regional and non-US based tourism)
  • Culinary arts and culinary services
  • Knowledge-based hospitality management services (consulting and outsourcing)
  • Recreation
  • Maritime services related to tourism
  • Niche technology sector startups and expansion phase businesses
  • Financial and business management services
  • Craft spirits industry
  • Domestic food production, animal husbandry and aquaculture (where economically efficient)
  • Light manufacturing advantaged by proximity to existing petroleum or distilled product production and storage and/or VI/ US Custom status
  • Regional transshipping intermediary services
  • E-commerce

Take stock of what the community offers or needs to offer to attract and/or retain a skilled workforce and by extension business and industry.

  • Safety
  • Education and work-force skill development
  • Environmental responsibility
  • Inclusivity of economic opportunity
  • Pride of place
  • Community identity
  • Arts & culture
  • History and architecture
  • Entertainment and sports
  • Supportive and more efficient business regulatory environment

The answer to what is an appropriate economic development strategy is most effectively answered by how that strategy is developed.  And, that process requires broad based community involvement, a realistic time frame, concrete action plans with measurable outcomes, commitment of resource to achieve defined end results, and effective and transparent management. 


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Home Forum Envisioning a Virgin Islands economic development strategy

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    Justin Moorhead

    A meaningful economic development strategy is a visioning exercise that defines a community’s economic aspirations based on its values.

    [See the full post at:]

    Justin Moorhead

    I was recently asked what prompted this particular discussion. It resulted from a proposal issued by the VIEDA soliciting proposals for an economic development strategy for the Territory. The studies requirements are extensive, which suggests to me that it will be awarded to a large consulting entity. There have been several relatively recent studies completed on the Virgin Islands. There is a wealth of information in these. A review and use of the data assembled by those studies (with some updating as needed) in the context of a broad locally developed consensus vision of where we the Virgin Islands want to be as an economic entity, will reduce time and cost and help produce the action plan we need.

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