Peter Durhager Co-Chair of BermudaFirst spoke on BermudaFirst and the role we all have in securing Bermuda’s long-term economic success… and ultimately the overall health and well-being of our Island community.

 

(Due to space constraints the following is a condensed version of this excellent presentation which covered a great deal, raising contentious issues that will generate discussion.  I have therefore provided a link in the download section of our website www.clubrunner.ca/hamilton where the complete presentation can be viewed.).

 

 

BermudaFirst is a collective of business, sector and Government leaders who came together (beginning in 2008), principally as a THINK TANK, to track the landscape of threats and opportunities in order that we might collectively respond, protect and extend Bermuda’s economic miracle.

In 2008, income per capita was $86,000 per year, higher than in all but three countries.  The rise of international business and more-sophisticated financial markets, particularly in insurance and reinsurance, had driven most of Bermuda’s economic success in the past several decades.  These sectors then accounted directly for 48% of Bermuda’s economy and another 20% of the economy through their demand for goods and services from other sectors such as transportation, restaurants, retail, etc.  Together, that’s almost 70% of the fuel for our economic engine.  Bermuda’s tourism sector represented another 5% of economic output.  Since that time, the enviable trend of an upward sloping curve of prosperity has been replaced by an even more powerful negative spiral – magnified by the impact of the global financial crisis and by external threats of tax and regulatory changes looming on the international scene.  Exacerbating that has been the rising urgency of internal threats including escalating crime, a failed education system, a tourism sector in outright crisis, a stalled construction sector, vacant buildings and homes and shuttered businesses.  But… while this looms over our island, there is hope.  So, I’d like to speak with you about what is required from all of us to create the conditions necessary for a return to economic stability and to provide the possibility for future economic growth and prosperity.

This isn’t anymore about what might happen - but what is happening and therefore, what to do about it.  Job losses have and continue to occur across several sectors; our rental apartments are empty, even at lower rental rates; we can’t sell our homes and break even, let alone profit; our taxis are empty… not even able to cover their gas expense for the day; our grocery stores are experiencing major declines in sales; once thriving salons and spas are now offering heavy discounts in an attempt to attract clients; and our restaurants and already struggling retail stores are empty.    There is also an alarming increase in crime and violence which would seem consistent with the increased pressure in the system.

We, as Bermudians, FROM private citizens to international business and from every sector, must:  Start with being willing to have the necessarily dialogue.  Dialogue that may be difficult and may not result in 100% agreement, but a dialogue that is honest, fact-based and with the ability to come away with a respect for the perspective, if not the position of the various stakeholder groups.  But we CANNOT stop with just dialogue.  The dialogue MUST RESULT in reviewing past and current policies and practice and taking action on new things that may make us uncomfortable but in the long run are the best thing for Bermuda overall and as a consequence, our People.  We must address and shift our attitudes about ‘service’ being seen as ‘servitude’.  We must get back to the days when we were, to borrow a phrase from the Ritz Carlton, ‘Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.’  We must STOP expecting government to be the be all and end all of our personal and community success.   We must stop expecting a hand out and start REQUESTING and ACCEPTING a hand UP, while embracing personal responsibility for our situations.  We must find the BALANCE between protecting our rights as Bermudians and ensuring that we ARE and more importantly ARE PERCEIVED TO BE open for business to the global business community.    Despite efforts from many angles, a pervasive lack of understanding and public recognition exists for the appreciation of the tremendous economic contribution from international business.  We need to understand this and – Beware the danger that arises from the collision of perception and reality.  From speaking with a broad range of people, inside Bermuda and externally, it is clear that there is a pervasive sentiment in Bermuda and, sadly, beyond, that Bermuda is “closed for business”.  We have got to turn this around!  We have to honestly reflect whether the recent wave of redomestications (that’s where businesses have moved their chosen place of domicile out of Bermuda) is the veritable “canary in the coal mine”? 

We need to be wrestling with key questions:  Is Bermuda really open for business à new investment, new business, new guest workers, and most importantly, new jobs for Bermudians?   Are we competitive and unique / differentiating?  What is in the way of our progress and what would it take to shift it? What does success look like?  What would it take to change? And, perhaps most importantly, especially when we are afraid to change – we must ask ourselves what’s at risk if we don’t ?  These issues have multiple dimensions and might look very different depending on the lens through which they are viewed – These are also subjects on which reasonable people will disagree - but to work our way through the pain, together, is the only way for us to reinvent ourselves in these dynamic times – and to preserve and extend Bermuda’s economic miracle for the next generation.