|World Mart contractor to hire 1,200 Bahamians|
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Jun 14, 2012
FREEPORT, Grand Bahama - Top executives from Beijing Construction America and influential investors from China have arrived in Freeport to hammer home a project that could change the Grand Bahama economy.
The foreign delegation is engaged in a series of meetings with government officials. The 1.1 million-square-foot facility, representing a total investment of $200 million, is designed to provide merchants from China and around the world with an international platform to promote, sell and distribute mass quantities of goods to corporations throughout North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Beijing Construction America is slated to be the general contractor, while The Export-Import Bank of China will help provide financing for the $200 million project. World Mart has received preliminary approval from the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), and Ian Fair, the chairman, is reporting "considerable progress".
Zac Henson, the president of Beijing Construction America, told Guardian Business during an exclusive interview that his company is "aggressively investing in the U.S." through his counterparts in the Chinese banks. That eye for opportunity has now led them just a few dozen miles off the coast of Florida, to Grand Bahama.
Henson said the construction of World Mart, over the course of two years, will generate up to 1,200 jobs for Bahamians. While construction would be overseen by Beijing Construction, a series of sub-contractors will be enlisted.
And when the complex is complete, World Mart is estimated to create up to 3,000 jobs.
"We are here to design, build and possibly finance this project," he added.
Henson and his team are joined by top-level investors from China to scout the site. Kenneth Hutton and Joe Thompson, the Bahamian executives behind the distribution center, were also in attendance and introduced the foreign delegation to local government officials.
The World Mart team is expected to meet today with Ryan Pinder, the minister of financial services, and Michael Darville, the minister for Grand Bahama.
Comprising 1,600 display stalls, World Mart will be divided into five districts geared towards specific areas of trade and distribution: Fashion Boulevard, Technology Way, Home Goods Avenue, Manufacturing Place and Season Street.
Each district is in the shape of a circle, and perhaps most interestingly, a clear glass cube lies in the middle for displays and private meetings.
The Bahamian business model has been fashioned from Yiwu International Trade City, one of the largest wholesale centers in the world.
"Manufacturing is aging in China. They aren't cranking it out like they were a few years ago. That's why you see Export-Import Bank being so aggressive, and their state-owned partners," Henson said.
The notion of a free trade zone between the U.S. and China, and China and the U.S., is very attractive within the free trade bubble, he explained.
The concept of World Mart, however, is not to just bring big business to The Bahamas, but create a destination in itself.
Plans are in the works for a hotel and several restaurants. The spill off effect, Henson added, would be tremendous for an island in dire need for employment.
In size and scale, World Mart, as a Chinese project, would only be rivaled by Baha Mar, the ongoing $2.6 billion resort development on Cable Beach.
According to the latest numbers from the Department of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Grand Bahama is around 21 percent.
Henson and his team will be in Freeport until Friday.
"I think there is an incredibly unused asset here. It has tremendous potential," he said. "But because of the economy, and because of world circumstances, it has a stomach ache, and it needs medical attention."