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The real impact of investments like Baha Mar

Published: Oct 28, 2013

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Dear Editor,

It was disappointing to read your editorial of October 26, in which you chose to revive the persistent fallacy that portrays large FDI projects like Baha Mar and Atlantis as providing only “tourism” jobs and promoting an employment monoculture.  You infer that Baha Mar’s opening will not create opportunities for “engineers, architects, project managers, graphic designers, lawyers, landscape architects, interior designers and so forth”.

While I am sure the people at Baha Mar are more capable than I of refuting your assertions, I would point out that even the most cursory visit to Atlantis’ corporate offices would demonstrate the fallacy as it relates to that resort.  Every category of professional cited in your editorial is in fact employed at Atlantis, in addition to marine biologists, accountants and security professionals.

Besides this, the very fact that the resort employs some 8,000 Bahamians in stable, well-paid jobs, who in turn are the clients and customers of lawyers, doctors, insurers, etc., further contributes to a broad, diverse professional base, relative to the size of the country.

As for the “brain drain” that allegedly results from conditions outlined in your premise, it is unfortunate that you would make use of this emotive yet overused term, while making no attempt to put it in any kind of context as regards the realities of The Bahamas.

The Bahamas experiences the same kind of “brain drain” that characterizes any U.S. city of equal population, though to a considerably lesser degree thanks to the far greater diversity of the Bahamian national economy than that of most U.S. cities of equal population.  To put it simply, small communities always drain brains, at least to some extent.  But we do so less than most.

Take Bakersfield, California, which had at the last census a population practically identical to that of The Bahamas (354,000).  It does not have a single private employer of the size or diversity of an Atlantis, a Baha Mar or a Freeport Container Port.  Following government, its three largest employers are farms (with 4,200, 3,500 and 2,000 employees each) followed by two hospitals (1,400 and 1,200 employees each).  Note that even Nassau airport (not to mention Atlantis or Baha Mar) would, if transported to Bakersfield, California, be one of the largest and easily the most diverse employer in town.

Naturally, then, Bakersfield’s economy supports only a fraction of the 1,000-plus attorneys of The Bahamas (not to mention financial services professionals, engineers, architects, marine biologists and other supporting services that result from massive FDI projects like Atlantis and Baha Mar).

This in turn is reflected in the far greater numbers of professionals from Bakersfield who choose not to stay at home but to move to New York, L.A., Washington or elsewhere to make their careers – the overwhelming majority, quite unlike Nassau.

One such attorney, Earl Warren, later chief justice of the U.S., is in fact the only native of Bakersfield, California of whom Guardian readers would likely have heard.  Had he remained in Bakersfield, his prospects would have been far dimmer than those of a newly qualified Bahamian attorney willing to work hard.  This is thanks to the very likes of Baha Mar, which have (directly and indirectly) created outsized diversity and opportunity for inhabitants of a town of this size.

On an international level, the comparisons favor The Bahamas even more dramatically.  Barbados, Iceland and Malta all have similar populations.  Yet none provides nearly as diverse a range of opportunities for young ambitious people to remain at home.  Granted, we are no utopia in this regard, and many bright Bahamians will leave, but thanks to the scope and scale of FDI inflows like Baha Mar, far more stay than in any comparably sized community that comes to mind.

When in Iceland some years ago, I had the opportunity to meet perhaps the most famous Icelander – a musician called Bjork.  Had she not left to make her career in London, the chances of her being recognized by a Bahamian would have been nil.  The same holds true for Barbados’ Rihanna and our own Lenny Kravitz.  But of these microstates, only The Bahamas (thanks to the offshore industry, but more especially to big FDI inflows) has a diversity in its professional sector which is out of all proportion to the needs of the domestic economy and which sustains a broad range of professionals who would otherwise find no employment in such a small society.

Atlantis has been the lead performer to date, employing engineers, attorneys, accountants, designers, senior ex-banking executives, senior ex-policemen and marine biologists.  But it is obvious that Baha Mar will further solidify and diversify these opportunities.

Far from somehow bypassing the needs of Bahamians, these large FDI projects are what set The Bahamas apart and give us a breadth of employment opportunities that are out of proportion to our tiny size.  All governments of The Bahamas should be encouraged to keep delivering more, not less of the basic development formula of FDI-led growth that has placed us where we are and would likely advance us further still.

I expect more from The Guardian than to feed this kind of commonly spouted yet misinformed nonsense that passes uncritically for public debate in The Bahamas.

– Andrew Allen

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