Gov. Albert Bryan’s hopes for a 20-year grand economic development plan has been sidetracked so long that the work which was supposed to be completed as of Tuesday has barely started.
Bryan announced the initiative in his first State of the Territory Address last January. Led by the Economic Development Authority, the “U.S. Virgin Islands Vision 2040” task force was to be comprised of members from “the Governor’s Office, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, a host of other agencies and private-sector partners.”
They were to devise “a 20-year economic vision which will empower our people, promote prosperity, and break cycles of poverty in the Territory that have lasted for generations” – and to deliver their recommendations by Oct. 1.
So far there has been one meeting of a group of people who may or may not be the actual task force members, an aborted attempt to hire a consultant to do the actual work, the appointment of a managing director for Vision 2040 from within EDA — Shanell Petersen — and the hiring of a program manager — Kyle C. Thomas.
It is not clear exactly what has caused the delay.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Source in July, Bryan responded to a question about the initiative, saying there had been some “little issues.” He said EDA had recently closed a bid, and a consultant, whom he didn’t name, had been awarded the job.
He also alluded to a possible hitch involving research turf. The University of the Virgin Islands has a right to every study, he said, but in this case, “I asked them to just please decline so we can have someone come to the territory and look at it with fresh eyes.”
In a brief but long-requested interview last week, Shanell Petersen, EDA’s managing director for Marketing/2040 Vision, put the blame on funding delays.
Petersen said that a $1 million federal grant that EDA was counting on for the project has yet to be released. The money is a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery grant. The money is channeled from the federal government to the local government through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.
Petersen said the money has been anticipated since January. She was vague about the reason for the delay, saying only “we have been allocated $1 million” from the Housing Finance Authority but “we have not been given notice to proceed.”
Meanwhile, she said, EDA has also applied to the U.S. Economic Development Administration for a $1.5 million grant.
In May, the Virgin Islands EDA put out a Request for Proposal for a consultant for Vision 2040. The total cost of the job was not to exceed $600,000.
According to reports in other media, the job was awarded to a company based in Virginia — Portals LLC, a Global Consulting Firm — for slightly under $600,000. However, Petersen indicated last week that no contract has been implemented because the funding is not in place.
She said things are on hold “until we actually receive the funding, then we will begin our procurement process.” She acknowledged that EDA had identified Porto as the consultant and said it could still be considered. For now, “we have not advertised for any other consultants.”
Asked about UVI, Petersen said the university “is going to be a part” of the project.
The administration has appeared reticent to talk about Vision 2040 from the time it was announced. It was unresponsive to repeated requests from the Source for more information in February and March and has released very little information about the progress of the initiative. The EDA website has nothing on its “2040 Vision” page except a few photos from a meeting held in March at Government House and a link to the governor’s State of the Territory Address. It took Petersen a full month and repeated prodding to respond to written questions from the Source.
Petersen would not say who is on the task force or who is on its steering committee, because, she said, as some acting heads of departments become permanent heads, the members on the committee may change. She said about 30 people were at the March meeting, including representatives from the Legislature, from the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s Offices, from various government agencies and from private sector organizations.
Two people who attended the meeting told the Source they weren’t sure whether they were actually on the committee or just observers. Neither had heard another word from EDA about Vision 2040 in the six months since that meeting.
However, both were supportive of the general concept. One recalled being “very impressed” by Bryan’s presentation.
There has been some work behind the scenes, apparently. The RFP for the consulting job was detailed as to the scope of the project and stressed the need for input from Virgin Islands residents and from the V.I. diaspora.
Petersen told the Source that Vision 2040 is supposed to focus on several industries: services (especially tourism,) technology, marine, energy, agriculture, and manufacturing.
As Oct. 1 quickly approaches, there has been no new deadline set, she said.
“We’re on hold for now,” she said.