Manpower concerns over Exuma investment surge


Tribune Business Reporter

LABOUR shortages, and the tendency of major developers to rely on foreign contractors, has left Exuma businesses pessimistic over how much they will benefit from multi-million foreign direct investment targeted at the island.

Caleb Rolle, owner/operator of Rolle and Sons Air Conditioning, told Tribune Business that while developers typically hire his firm to perform the installation they then hand the maintenance work to foreign contractors. As a result, work has not been sustainable for him.

“Exumians aren’t benefiting,” he argued. “Those people get those cays finished and they bring in their own private people there. Bahamians who have the jobs there are too scared to open their mouth to say to the people that we are not getting those jobs because they have already been given out to the American companies back in America.

“So this Sampson Cay deal, and all of those cay deals, they are no benefit to us; they are a benefit to the Government. They have a big show to put on the television to say something is going on, but when the election is over, that’s it. The cays may not even have a finished project. I have seen multiple projects start right before the election and they have all died out.”

The $25m Sampson Cay project announced last week is among multiple projects unveiled for the Exuma cays. The development, spearheaded by permanent resident and philanthropist, Robert Coughlin, is to be completed by the end of 2024 with pledges that Bahamians will be employed throughout all phases of the project.

Questions have been raised over the manpower capacity on Exuma to manage all of these projects that is envisioned by the Deputy Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for the island, Chester Cooper that set to come on stream.

Mr Rolle, speaking of Exuma investments generally, added: “On these cays you would find the foreigners their working right now, and by the time the Immigration Department gets down to these cays, these people are long gone. So Exumians aren’t getting any jobs because those jobs are coming in from the US.”

Mr Rolle said he has worked on Sampson Cay before for other clients to install air conditioning units, calling it the “biggest project” he has performed. However, he said he was promised the maintenance contract for the same units only to later discover it had been handed to a US company. “They never looked back at me,” he added.

Tracey Bowe, owner/ operator of Bowe’s Convenience Store, was equally as pessimistic over whether Exuma has sufficient manpower capacity to meet the labour and skills needs of these projects. He said the entire country has a “major problem with workmanship”.

“I have about 13 people working here with me, and in another week I am looking for another 15 or 17, but it’s a rough situation. The money is not the issue, but it is finding people willing to work for it,” Mr Bowe said.

Another fear is that major development projects will suck up the best workers, leaving business owners such as Mr Bowe with employee shortages he will not be able to manage. “The Government is moving too fast with these projects, and if Sampson Cay comes off it will take half of my staff now,” Mr Bowe said.

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