Bermuda needs to be more business-friendly, say CEOs

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Drop in the number of exempted companies since 2008
Percentage of expatriate workers who have left the Island since 2010
Percentage of Bermudians who are unemployed
Percentage of Bermudians considered either unemployed or underemployed
Estimated percentage of Bermuda’s economic activity driven by international business
Estimated percentage of Bermuda’s economic activity fuelled by tourism

As the December 17 General Election approaches, The Royal Gazette is publishing a comprehensive series of articles on the major issues facing the Island. Marcia Breen takes a look at international business in today’s instalment.

A handful of top executives in the re/insurance industry, speaking strictly on condition of anonymity, talked to us about issues they believe need to be addressed to help promote a sound business environment in Bermuda. High on their lists was immigration reform and the creation of a more business-friendly environment.

The chairman of one re/insurance company told this newspaper that, above all else, there needs to be a seismic shift in attitudes toward international business and guest workers.

“I think that for Bermuda to survive, it has to move from the perception of being at best, begrudgingly accepting of international business. It has to move from that perception to being positively and aggressively pro-international business,” he said. “There’s got to be a massive mindset change — and not just by politicians. The politicians have got to persuade the populace. It requires recognition that Bermuda has no industry.”

The CEO of another re/insurance company agreed, saying Bermuda should take a “back-to-the-future” approach when it comes to creating a more business-friendly environment.

“Bermuda was a very business-friendly environment in the 80s and 90s that attracted people, businesses and opportunities — it was a growth environment. But what’s occurred in the last five to ten years has been a transition toward restrictiveness.

“Attitudes are a starting point, but the ability to actually make change happen, as opposed to just talking about it, would be better.”

One of the executives said that with tourism accounting for just five percent of Bermuda’s economy and international business accounting for nearly 70 percent, Government should be more focused on business.

“Bermuda as a tourism destination is so out of date now,” the chairman said. “But, it does have this wonderful opportunity and this infrastructure in place to really get its act together on international business. International business is the lifeblood of the Island.”

Last year, the value added by the IB sector declined for the fourth consecutive year. Job cuts and the re-domiciling of several companies to other jurisdictions have also featured prominently in the last few years..

“Every statistic I’ve seen about jobs shows that the more expats you have working here, the more it creates opportunities for Bermudians,” said a re/insurance CEO.

“It’s not a matter of the more work permits that are refused, the more jobs I’m going to give out to Bermudians. It doesn’t work that way.”

“We would prefer to hire Bermudians,” one of the executives said. “But they’ve got to have the right skill sets and they’ve got to have the right mindset.”

Immigration reform, business leaders say, is an area that needs major reform after the election.

“The [Immigration] policy tends to vacillate. One minute, it seems like anybody and everybody can get a work permit and the next minute it seems like anybody and everybody can’t. So it’s an inconsistent and unclear environment.

“Clarity is always important for businesses. Some of the domicile movements that we’ve seen over the last four or five years have been focused on business flexibility and access to a structure that they’re aware of, understand and that’s consistent. Business leaders feel they have much more flexibility and control if they have their domiciles outside of Bermuda.”

All of the executives who spoke to The Royal Gazette said that in today’s global economy, Bermuda needs to be more competitive and cannot continue to rest on its laurels.

“That’s something I think is very important to this whole political process. In Bermuda, there’s an attitude of entitlement but in the end, you’re only entitled to what you earn. Bermuda does not own these companies. These companies are mobile and capital is flexible — it doesn’t have to stay in one place.”

“There are lots of places that are positively touting for international business to move there and they’ve got streams of highly qualified people.

“Take Ireland, for example or Singapore, they’ve got loads of highly qualified people ready to employ and Bermuda doesn’t have that.

“International business is hugely transportable and is being courted by other highly-competitive jurisdictions. Bermudians need to realise that international business is not lucky to be in Bermuda, but Bermuda is lucky to have it.”

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Published Nov 21, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 21, 2012 at 12:31 am)

Bermuda needs to be more business-friendly, say CEOs

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