Division Of Finance Charts The Way Forward
There is an air of cautious optimism about the future outlook of the sister isle following the Tobago Economic and Business Conference 2016 held at the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort on Tuesday, November 8.
The 10th edition of this benchmark discussion charted a pathway for economic development and diversification for Tobago, spearheaded by a panel of dynamic presenters, bolstered by sound contributions from a participative audience representing a wide cross-section of the island’s population.
It was a poignant moment as Orville London delivered remarks at what marks his last appearance at the annual event in his capacity as Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
“Tobago has a critical role to play in getting Trinidad and Tobago out of these difficult times, especially with the decline of the energy sector and the need to focus on other foreign-exchange earning facets like tourism. I am confident that we will emerge from this conference with great ideas, but they will not resonate unless we take them away from this room and put them into action. Each of us needs to recognise that Tobago has a role to play and we need to step up and take charge of the responsibility that each of us shoulders. This is especially relevant in the context of the Bill advocating the self-governance of Tobago that lies before Cabinet. We each have to become an agent for the change and progress that we wish to see in our nation,” the Chief Secretary said.
London also highlighted a number of upcoming opportunities that will serve to catalyse the development of Tobago and create employment, including the continuing expansion of the ANR Robinson International Airport, increased electricity generation capacity at COVE Eco-Industrial Estate, a desalination plant and the proposed construction of 750-room Sandals Resort.
The conference, hosted under the banner “Exploring Innovation, Embracing Opportunities, Enhancing Economic Resilience”, highlighted the second day of Finance Week organised by the THA’s Division of Finance and Enterprise Development (DFED). The week of events serves to provide information, get feedback from the population and aims to unearth and develop persons with entrepreneurial ambition in the Division’s drive to bolster and diversify the economy.
Finance Secretary, Assemblyman Joel Jack, delivered the welcome and closing remarks: “This conference serves to provide a forum where topical issues that impact the economy are discussed by presenters from varying fields of expertise. The attendance grows each year and that is a sign that we are doing something right. But the proof isn’t only in the numbers of interested people, but also in the outcomes of past conferences. The ideas generated over the years have resulted in a number of positive initiatives, including the restructuring of the Business Development Unit, the introduction and rationalisation of the Business Development Grant and Loan programmes, the introduction of the Venture Capital Equity Fund and the current development of the Innovation Centre at Tobago Technology Limited.”
Jack added, “Since the first conference in 2007, over 3,000 new jobs have been created and our economy has grown more diversified and resilient. All of this has been possible to a great degree through the vision and foresight of the Chief Secretary and we owe him a depth of gratitude. I also renew my commitment to maintaining the quest to ignite the Tobago economy and achieve as much of our limitless potential as possible.”
The conference fulfilled a number of objectives, including understanding the challenges Tobago faces and developing policy prescriptions to overcome those challenges; providing a forum where entrepreneurs can share experiences and gain knowledge and insight; and also to sensitise Tobagonians about the opportunities created by the THA to stimulate entrepreneurial activity.
Topics such as the implications for economic slowdown, adjustments required for dealing with the economic reality, improving productivity and innovation and managing in a challenging economic environment, were delivered by keynote speakers. They included Professor Andrew Downes, past Pro Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies; Wendell Mottley, former Minister of Finance; Hayden Blades, Economist and President of Business Insight Limited; Jason Julien, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Business Generation, First Citizens Bank; and Claire Davidson-Williams, Administrator, DFED. Keeping the rhythm of the conference flowing and engaging the audience was the charismatic moderator and accomplished daughter of the soil, Dr. Eastlyn McKenzie.
Sharon Christopher, recently retired Deputy Chief Executive Officer of First Citizens Bank, led a panel representing “Women in Business” that gave firsthand experiences and insights from successful female entrepreneurs and which generated the greatest level of audience participation.
The presenters and participants maintained a vigorous flow of information that left a feeling of energy and optimism regarding the future of economic growth and development in Tobago and the nation as a whole.
This sentiment was reflected in the words of Rhona Jack, late-blooming entrepreneur: “There aren’t enough words to describe how excellent this conference was. I believe that we are lucky in Tobago to have leaders like Mr. London and Mr. Jack who have the vision and support innovators and entrepreneurs. The information shared here opened me up to realise that, even at the age of 51, I can fulfil my potential and encourage others to follow this path also. Very soon from now, it will be me up there relating how I became an important part of the Trinidad and Tobago economy.”