NEW YORK — St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) Minister of Economic Development, Camillo Gonsalves, has told Vincentians in this city that now is the time to take advantage of investment opportunities at home that will come with the opening of their country’s first international airport, later this year.
Gonsalves told a town hall meeting in Brooklyn on Sunday that the EC$729 million airport at Argyle, which has missed completion deadlines annually since 2011, is on target to be completed by June of this year.
He said the airport should be approved for international flights by September.
The coming on stream of the country’s largest capital project will revolutionise economic realities in SVG, Gonsalves said.
“Land in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is going to get more expensive, space is going to get more crowded, rent on apartments is going to go up, more people will be building apartments, farmers and fisher folk will have more markets when they’e supplying food for hotels and supplying food overseas… We want you involved. You have experience, you have ideas, you have access to capital. You have the Vincentian market and the American market,” Gonsalves told a town hall meeting in Brooklyn on Sunday.
“I want to talk to you about the issue of investing in a country that is about to take off and to tell you that now is the time to seize the day,” he said, echoing a point made earlier at the same event by Minister of Tourism, Cecil McKie.
“Don’t think that well, you don’t have it to invest or investment is for somebody else, because there are many different levels of investment and there are many ways you can contribute to your country and there are many ways you can make money while contributing to your country and this is the time that you need to be focusing your mind on investing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, because the takeoff is about to happen and the airport is one of the many catalysts…” Gonsalves said.
“We have an airport that is months away from opening,” Gonsalves said, adding that he attended the meeting called by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on April 1 to get a sense of when the airport would open.
He acknowledged that the opening date has been “a moving target”, but added that it is not the first construction project that is finishing later than planned.
Gonsalves said that McKie and head of the Tourism Authority, Glen Beache, will soon announce “some very exciting news” about the airlines that will fly to country and the routes they will take.
His comments came just three weeks after Beache told the media on April 1 that two airlines have indicated how many flights they would like to make to Argyle, but he could not announce their names “because competition is also fierce out there”.
Gonsalves told the town hall meeting:
“But the work is continuing and, certainly by this Labour Day football match, if you want to come, you will be able to land at Argyle international airport,” he said in reference to the SVG-USA Football World Cup Qualifier.
Continuing his investment pitch, Gonsalves said that when the Argyle airport opens, the country will have a large piece of flat land where the E.T. Joshua Airport is located in Arnos Vale that will go toward the development of a new city.
He said that his government has already signed an agreement with the owners of the Movie Towne franchise in Trinidad, who will build a Movie Towne and a shopping mall in Arnos Vale, where the terminal building is now located.
Further, the completion of the country’s geothermal power plant in 2018 will make electricity cheaper and investments in SVG more attractive, Gonsalves said.
“So, the price will come down for electricity, but, more than that, the price will be steady, because it is not oil going up and down in price,” he said.
A new port will also be built in Rose Place, Kingstown, he said, adding that the lands where the port is now located will also be available for development.
He said that in many instances, the persons who make beds and serve foods at hotels are local people, but the restaurant owners are foreigners.
“One of the mistakes we don’t want to repeat is to pursue foreigners to invest in the country at the expense of the indigenous and local people. Now, there are some foreigners we will need to have. We are not saying close the doors to them, but we are saying we come to you first and say what can you do for your country before we ask other people what they can do for our country.”
Gonsalves said that as SVG develops, it is going to have issues of trying to balance investment needs with local needs.
He made an apparent reference an the on-going impasse in Canouan, where islanders are demanding road access to beaches even as investors seems to be promising guests exclusivity.
“You will have a conversation in the Grenadines, because land is limited and people want to develop hotels that are exclusive, but the people who are there already, they want to know that they can go the same way they used to go, walk down the same road they used to walk down, tie their sheep and their goat the same place they used to tie their sheep and their goat…”
Gonsalves outlined his government’s vision for investment in SVG.
“We want to develop a country of people who have an investment in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that goes beyond the dollars and cents. That their heart is in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, that there navel string bury in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
He urged Vincentians in New York to serious considering investing at home.
“I want to say get your minds in gear about the types of investments that are coming on stream because investments in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are about to skyrocket. The airport is not just about getting you back home without stopping in Barbados, because if we were going to spend 600 million dollars just to make you not stop in Barbados, we woulda just pay for alyo tickets, because 600 million dollars, we can buy everybody in Brooklyn a ticket home,” Gonsalves said.