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: https://underthemarkets.com/economic-strategy-action-plans-virgin-islands/]

    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.

    Miguel Quinones

    First of all I would like to thank the author for taking the time to develop a proposal and participate in the Under the Markets collaborative effort to lead the Virgin Islands into a better future. The author’s economic development strategy vision is comprehensive, very detailed, supported by past and current statistics, and very similar to the strategy I will propose. At this time, the VI EDA has selected “Camoin 310” to follow along a similar path to provide the services for an RFP for the development of the Vision 2040 Economic Development plan focused on the following 5 economic pillars: Services, technology, energy, agriculture, manufacturing. They intend to gather feedback from as many Virgin Islanders as possible, including the diaspora as part of the process.

    The desired outcomes of the consultancy are:
    1. Creation of promotional website and a database to store the data gathered from the surveys.
    2. Detailed demographic profile including: population, household income, wealth and credit levels, the impact of poverty, education levels, property values and trends in property ownership, skills gaps, joblessness, underemployment, and race, among others for up to the past ten years.
    3. Analysis of the economic base.
    4. Market and Industry Cluster analysis for the each of the 5 pillars:
    a. Specific industries and business types and consider their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT);
    b. Improvements and actions that will accelerate business attraction and recruitment of such development; and
    c. Territorial and federal programs or other programs that will be developed or implemented including, but not limited to, entrepreneurial development, business incubation and strategies for any special new industries.
    5. SWOT analysis – Analyze strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints of the territorial economy. The review must include social, demographic, economic and physical factors.
    6. Community Engagement Awareness Strategy.
    7. Outreach Campaigns
    8. Evaluation Framework for process and results against key metrics and benchmarks.
    9. Vision 2040 Economic Plan (A transformative 20-year economic development plan and a targeted competitive industry analysis by January 15, 2021.)

    Quoting a recent St. Croix Source newspaper article, the Governor stated that “We’re not always going to agree and not always going to be on the same page, but enough of us have to be committed to making the type of Virgin Islands we want to see, and to understand that in order to have the things we want, we have to make sacrifices in other places,”.

    Camoin 310 and EDA plans to engage residents multiple times in different venues looking for vast engagement. Engagement is vital to the success of any strategy and so is the political will to carry out a long term plan during difficult plans.

    The proposed approaches are very good, just falling short in the lack of proven implementation frameworks that can help the projects and programs build momentum and stay on track. Additionally there are side effects from being small developing islands which promote unintended inequality and social issues like community push back or dismissal. One of the prevailing causes of the financial calamities of the Territory is the largely extractive financial model in play. WAPA’s LEAC pays around %39 of their revenues to foreign fuel suppliers, plus financing costs, plus equipment purchases. Most of the food consumed in the Territory is imported that money also leaves to pay producers and transporters. The same happens with manufactured products, building materials, vehicles, airfare, etc. On top of all that we are often hiring non-local consultants to create studies that are required by Federal grants which end up collecting dust. In contrast we get to keep revenue from services, taxes, and the profits from some of the goods sold. The currency multiplier effect is probably very low, but more research on the topic is necessary to validate the hypothesis. In order to achieve resource neutral economic growth the Virgin Islands must improve the quality of services offered to increase the tourism market demand and work on local food production and exports which require a small footprint. I will not explore the details because I suggest we decide upon the course where we want to head first.

    To the extent of the economic analysis, I will mostly on a high level roadmap and not on the specifics. Ideally, Virgin Islanders should commit to the facilitated effort of creating a regenerative vision that encompasses the historical, geographic, cultural, ecological, and developmental nuances of the four islands in preparation for the upcoming planning efforts. The regenerative vision defines a holistic approach that takes into consideration the interests of ALL the stakeholders, residents, businesses, government, and the environment with the intent of creating a more fulfilling future decoupled from infinite growth and the negative impacts of Climate Change. The regenerative approach will also help transcend the conflicts of interests from vested interests and improve buy in from residents. Once the vision is completed we can then move to the implementation strategy that can withstand the resistance to change, lack of political commitment, conflicts of interest, financial barriers, and more.

    The next step is to translate the vision into an actionable plan as recommended by the author as well as designating a team to manage the effort. As a regenerative systems thinker I try to optimize best practices when suitable to take advantage of the existing knowledge bases, community support, funding mechanisms, and standardized metrics. My first thought was to use the United Nations Sustainable Development 2030 Goals (UN SDGs) framework used around the world and most importantly by other Caribbean islands. Unfortunately, the current National leadership has not given UN SDGs the necessary importance as we confront the impacts of climate change caused by infinite growth despite that most scientists and many academics are sounding the alarm. A recent article from Brooking Institution discusses some of the benefits of the sustainable development agenda, how they “reflect and reinforce America’s values” and how they are a “comprehensive and useful framework for U.S. action locally and globally”. The US government tracks its’ UN SDGs status at https://sdg.data.gov/. I have included the UN SDGs as reference for clarity.


    After further research it made more sense to use the Doughnut Economics model in which, Kate Raworth synthesizes socially centered aspects of economic development and developed a visual approach which illustrates social development against ecological resource uses and how we must be conscious about the planetary implications and growth limitations. The graphic representation of the metrics and indicators use simple visuals which make the development framework’s message shine through. The message of living within our planetary budget boundaries is represented by concentric circles which define the social and ecological metrics. The generally National model can be ported to City Portraits using the methodology created by the Doughnut Economics Action Lab. In theory it could even be broken down by district based upon the needs identified during the vision exercise.


    The one aspect that the Doughnut City Portrait is missing is the long term continuous improvement. The regenerative Virgin Islands Vision can be used as input for a continuous improvement management process designed to carry on the torch for decades to come and protect the plan from ending on a shelf with so many other studies and plans. The Plan, Do, Check, Act continuous improvement process mimics the cyclical natural feedback loops and is composed of the following steps: “Plan” to break down the vision into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound objectives and processes to meet the goals; “Do” to implement these objectives and processes; “Check” to monitor and measure the results of the implementation, and “Act” to make corrections and aim for higher goals.

    In 2016, the International Standards Organization tailored the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle to the specifics of sustainable development and came up with the ISO 37101 – Sustainable Development In Communities standard. My recommendation is to implement the ISO 37101 Sustainable Development in Communities standard as a tool to achieve the regenerative Virgin Islands Vision. Specifically, the ISO 37101 standard, relies on a highly committed team which is selected in the beginning which then puts in place the management system which takes into account the pillars of sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental aspects). The outcomes of the process are improved the sustainability, smartness and resilience of strategies, programs, projects, plans and services that are under the direct responsibility of the community; preservation and improvement of the environment and resilience; optimization of resource usage; use a systematic approach to engaging all interested parties; efficiency increases; and fiscal attractiveness of the community. The most important feature of the ISO 37101 standard is that not only will it use a community developed vision, but it can also addresses the political commitment from the onset.


    The Doughnut City Portrait metrics can be aligned with the indicators from the ISO 37101 standard to create a robust, comprehensive, future-proof, and transparent management system that can help the Virgin Islands become a regional leader.

    Lloyd Gardner

    Four months to produce an economic development plan should make for an interesting plan, to say the least.

    My main concern is the lack of articulation of the connections between economic growth and development. What kind of community are we trying to build? Without an agreed vision of who we want to be as a people and a community, it is possible to pursue economic development strategies that do not support the social development aspirations of the community. There are clear signals in the areas of health, criminal and social justice, and education that indicate that the pathways between economic activity and social development have to be more clearly delineated and actively pursued.

    Then there is the issue of the capacity and discipline necessary to translate an economic vision/strategy to economic growth to social development. That capacity includes managing three streams of activities simultaneously: (1) the current recovery process, and ensuring that current investments facilitate pursuit of long-term development goals;(2) the long overdue process of improving public sector decision making and service delivery; and (3) transitioning to a new development path.



    There are probably two reasons for this plan: to punch-out a federal funding requirement, and to be viewed as doing something meaningful in the wake of the pandemic. Covid will change tourism, the backbone of our economy, for the foreseeable future with direct impact on businesses, jobs and government revenues.

    Why the need to get this done in 4 months? Take the time and do it right. This is not an inexpensive initiative and the emphasis should be on the best plan rather than meeting a schedule.

    I do agree that absent consensus around community values and vision a truly representative plan is impossible to achieve and get implemented.

    On the Vision 2040 roll-out zoom call someone asked whether this will be just another study that future administrations ignore. Without community and legislative buy-in it will be shelved, probably by this administration and those that follow. There would be less of a chance of this happening if the Governor and the Legislature both support developing the plan and, once completed. the legislature committed local dollars to implementing recommendations and established an ongoing public/private management and oversight structure.

    The survey doesn’t allow for gathering the information I believe needs to be obtained.

    As an example, the choice of just 5 jobs/services for the community limits the range of opportunities I believe the community needs to consider. The question of whether an individual will be living in the Virgin Islands at a future date requires follow-up to identify what informs the answer. Depending on age and other factors responses will differ. Its important to know this. The question of what Caribbean country is more prosperous or attractive attempts to identify a community worth emulating. The Virgin Islands is more prosperous than most because of federal funds. Alternatively, most other Caribbean countries have greater leeway to give preferences to local residents. Being part of the US means the VI must do things consistent with U.S. law. Finally, looking at role models regardless of geography is a better approach. Singaporeans had to look beyond other Southeast Asia or Asia itself to identify elements that met that country’s development aspiration.

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