Kim Wilson, left, pictured on Thursday with her permanent secretary Cherrie Whitter, must help stimulate growth at a time of economic uncertainty. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Kim Wilson, left, pictured on Thursday with her permanent secretary Cherrie Whitter, must help stimulate growth at a time of economic uncertainty. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

FRIDAY, JULY 22: She has been hailed as one of the most effective ministers in Government. But Kim Wilson has a challenging job.

Given the unenviable task of taking Bermuda out of a recession the former acting magistrate and Attorney General was put in charge of a new department of Economy, Trade and Industry when Premier Paula Cox came to power in November.

It’s been a busy nine months. Here Ms Wilson talks James Whittaker through some of the strategies and solutions she has been working on.

 

How much of the strategy is about creating new jobs as opposed to convincing companies to retain existing ones?

The ministry budget is directed towards empowerment, reshaping the economy to create jobs and remove barriers for job seekers.

Entrepreneurial activity is a powerful tool in the job creation process and it is a key component in the ministry’s overall programme.

Initiatives designed to turn “passion into profit” will feature heavily in the Bermuda Small Business Development Corporation’s work in the coming months.

BSBDC will regionalize its services with the launch of the two new Economic Empowerment Zone offices in the east and west ends of the island. 

At BSBDC we provide guaranteed support to new and existing entrepreneurs. 

In some instances a small business would be unable to get the financing they need without this support. 

We guarantee half of the loan amount up to $200K so a business could get a $400k loan. We are currently guaranteeing 65 business loans worth $10.4 million which will assist in helping small businesses form and create jobs.

In addition through our EEZA we offer interest-free loans, technical assistance grants, payroll tax concessions, and duty deferments to qualifying businesses.

This has been very beneficial to some businesses who may just need a small amount to help them develop. We also have partnerships with HSBC and Butterfield Bank who give preferential rates and terms to qualifying businesses.

 

How difficult is it and what more needs to be done to enable people to change careers quickly?

On a personal level change is difficult for people and I can relate to that. The trauma of job loss coupled with the realization that one may have to consider a career change can be a lot to cope with.

People are still more inclined to seek opportunities in very narrowly defined areas.

In areas where known opportunities exist, people generally appear less interested. 

As a result of the moratorium there are real opportunities in landscaping, cleaning and kitchen porter categories. However, Bermudians seem less inclined to make application for these posts.

In instances where they do, employers are reporting that they stay for only a very short period.

 

Many employers are still complaining that they can’t find Bermudians with the right attitude and work ethic. Do you hear their concerns - is there anything you or they can do about it?

We continue to hear that work ethic and attitude is an issue. 

The Department of Labour and Training have traditionally offered a series of soft skills training courses. Employment Officers also counsel their clients in this area.

However, this is an area that the individual must be prepared to address on a personal level.

The issue of work ethic and attitude is a key area. I am interested in the employee point of view on this as well. 

I have heard from the employers, I have not heard as much from the employee. 

Employers that have traditionally hired migrant workers in specific roles have become accustomed to a certain type of employee and a willingness by that employee, who had no family in Bermuda, to work extended hours.

What many are finding is the same work ethic in certain jobs does not exist with a Bermudian employee who may have family and community commitments.

At least some of the complaints with respect to work ethic are directly related to the shift from a migrant worker, whose sole focus in Bermuda is work, to a Bermudian worker wherein work is a part of a much larger life purpose as Bermuda is home to them.

 

Are there any long-term plans in the works to tie education to the right careers and get Bermudians qualified to fill some of the 10,000-plus jobs currently taken by expats?

There are long-term plans in place to tie education to the right careers and get Bermudians qualified to fill many of the jobs required to run our sophisticated economy.

However, guest workers will always be part of the mix.

There are approximately 28,000 working age Bermudians and this number is likely to remain constant for the next 20 years or so, meanwhile there are around 38,000 jobs.

Even in tough economic times when jobs are being lost guest workers will be vital to sustaining our economy.

Given the largely knowledge based economy, particularly in international business, there are many Bermudian jobs tied to guest worker jobs.

Our aim is to maintain a healthy balance.
Part of preparing Bermudians to assume their role in the workforce is the provision of information.

We expect more information on careers, availability of jobs and what to do to prepare for these jobs will become available via a robust JobsBoard and career website.

I hope to advance this project in the coming months. 

Also, we will continue to provide support via the National Training Board.

 

Can you tell us about some of the strategies Government is pursuing and how well they are working?

We are achieving a level of success in maintaining the economy. Job opportunities have been created by way of the moratorium.  Bermudians can now avail themselves of these opportunities. 

The unemployment registration drive will give us data to better inform training and job placement programmes so these persons can be re-integrated into the workforce.

 

Some have suggested that lifting the restrictions on foreign business ownership might be one way to stimulate new business in Bermuda. Is it time to consider something like that?

Minister Minors, under the Business Development and Tourism portfolio, is now responsible for these types of applications.

The Act basically protects Bermudian business and property while allowing new foreign owned business to operate in instances where there are specific benefits.

Traditional examples include hotels, the osmosis plant and petrol companies. Anyone can apply.

Banks are another recent example where the 60/40 rule has been relaxed. Many believe the policy is already pretty relaxed. There is always a delicate balance between allowing foreign owned companies to operate in Bermuda and the protection of Bermuda, its resources, and assets.

That said, if we are able to strike the above balance, I personally believe further considerations for the extension of the 60/40 rule should be considered.

 

Green energy has been highlighted as a potential growth sector both in the US and here. Is there anything in the works to expand the job-creation potential in that area?

This is an area that is being pursued and you can expect to hear more from the relevant minister soon.  Job creation in this area is real. 

It is a medium to long-term endeavour and active consideration should be given to the related fields of study when students are considering their career options. 

Many companies have already started to retrain their staff so that they can diversify their businesses.

The import duty rates of various products have been reduced significantly in order to encourage the use of energy efficient products and renewable energy technologies in Bermuda. 

The opportunity for consumers to reduce their electricity costs through incentives and aids is a spur to the formation of business opportunities to serve these consumers.

BSBDC anticipating this sector as prime for business formation and growth and the knock-on effect of job creation, held in December 2010 a seminar called ‘Going Green Matters’. 

Over 60 aspiring entrepreneurs, business owners and vendors were in attendance to find out how they could take advantage of this new sector. 

 

How can Government incentivize job creation and small business development when it is hamstrung by debt repayments and budget constraints?

While there may be a relationship between debt repayment and budget constraints I don’t think that it is fair to suggest that this creates a barrier to incentivizing job creation and small business development.

BSBDC incentivizes small business development by guarantying loans and by providing an alternate source of financing through its EEZ loan and its other financial assistance programmes. In addition those businesses located in EEZs are eligible for duty and payroll tax deferment. It takes start-up businesses between three and five years to become sustainable. 

As such, these incentives allow business owners ‘breathing room’ and gives them the opportunity to focus on building their business and becoming profitable.

Additionally, there are several tax incentives already in place that are designed to incentivize business development.

 

What are your targets for recovery for Bermuda? How long is this slump likely to continue in your view and how much is Bermuda in control of its own destiny on this issue?

The Government through the Premier and Minister of Finance has already stated recovery will be slow however if everyone in the community is prepared to pull together Bermuda could then be well placed to take advantage of the eventual upturn in overseas economies.

 

Special report: Bermuda in recession