Members of the private sector came out in large numbers to attend the inaugural Prime Minister’s Business Forum at the Sandals Grande Resort yesterday.
During the discussion, Prime Minister Gaston Browne informed attendees of his government’s willingness to support local investments which develop “our port and road infrastructure, as well as attracting high-end brands such as the Royalton to develop properties.”
Browne also said that nurturing domestic investments will directly benefit the people of Antigua and Barbuda while retaining more of the financial earnings of businesses within the country.
“We are seeking to build an entrepreneurial state; we believe that the pathway to building an economic powerhouse is to have a strong entrepreneurial base and to make sure Antiguans and Barbudans can benefit from the developmental gains of the country.
“We need to have stronger retained earnings in this country to fuel robust growth and development. So we [must] broaden the stakeholder base to have more businesses that are owned and managed by Antiguans and Barbudans,” he said.
A presentation was made by business leaders on the various avenues available to further improve entrepreneurship in the country.
According to that presentation, potential entrepreneurs should look to invest more in areas, such as shrimp and fish farming, the renewable energy sector, health tourism and Airbnb properties.
Browne believed the attendance at the forum exceeded expectations and that the forum provided a space for ideas and concerns to be aired.
He added that he hoped to make the forum an annual event to continue to receive feedback from the business sector.
Meanwhile, members of the public aired their concerns, asked questions of and suggested ideas to the various ministers in attendance.
One concern raised by an attendee was the unoccupied properties within St. John’s and the dilapidated buildings from which some businesses sought to operate.
The attendee believed this problem does not speak well for the public image of Antigua and Barbuda.
“It does not lend itself to what an economic powerhouse should have, and we are concerned about it,” the attendee said.
Other issues raised during the event included increased tax concessions for manufacturing and construction businesses, increasing utilization of local service providers by foreign investors, and the lack of on-time payment by the government to contractors.