Population influx needed for economic growth

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Bermuda needs an influx of thousands of people to boost its flagging population — or strong economic growth will not happen.

This is the view of Don Mills, chief executive officer of a Canadian market research company involved in a pioneering Bermuda business confidence survey, who argues that the Island needs a national dialogue on population issues, based on the facts.

The declining population was the second most important business issue flagged by corporate decision makers in the survey. Thousands of expatriate workers have left the Island in recent years in a period that has seen the Bermuda economy shrink by about ten per cent.

Speaking to an audience of business leaders in Hamilton yesterday, Mr Mills said the population was growing slowly in most western economies, helping to fuel demand for goods and services, so aiding growth.

“If you have a static or declining population, it creates havoc in an economy,” Mr Mills said. “There are more people dying than being born in Bermuda and there is no stopping that trend. Unless there is some other way of filling in the population, then the decline will continue.

“There has to be a national dialogue on population. You can’t just wait another ten years — it will be too late.”

The 2010 Census found that the Island’s population was 64,237. Economy commentator Larry Burchall has used a number of sources to estimate the population declined by about 7,000 between 2008 and 2013 to a level of approximately 61,000.

Population shrinkage limited the prospects for economic growth, Mr Mills said, and the impact would be exacerbated by baby boomers leaving the workforce amid an ageing population.

“There is very modest potential for growth with the population that you have right now,” Mr Mills said.

“You have to find another 3,000 people to have any reasonable growth expectations.

“I would estimate Bermuda’s growth rate will be hampered by at least one per cent per year unless the population issue is addressed.”

Halifax-based Mr Mills said his home province of Nova Scotia was facing a similar challenge. There, net immigration of 7,000 people a year is required to replenish the population, he added.

After the presentation, Mr Mills told The Royal Gazette that the impact of the thousands of departing guest workers was being felt throughout the community. He said 3,000 housing units emptied was “going to hurt”.

“People probably recognise now the impact that the loss of these expats has had on the average Bermudian,” he said.

He realised that immigration was a sensitive issue and the search for a solution should involve the entire community, not politicians alone.

He threw out one suggestion, economic immigration — the selling of citizenship to a limited number of individuals willing to make a $5 million investment in economic activity to create jobs — as a move Bermuda could make.

“With only 100 of those people, you would get a $500 million investment in the country, and when you add personal spending that could become $1 billion,” Mr Mills said. “If that happened, how many people would get jobs? A lot more than 2,000.

“There are many people in the Middle East, for example, who might be interested. It could create new sectors such as software developing. What better place than Bermuda to do that kind of work?”

By 2020, there will be about 50 per cent more people aged 65 and older in Bermuda. This presents two challenges for Bermuda, Mr Mills said — replacing them in the workforce and dealing with higher healthcare costs.

Mr Mills worked with local firm Total Research Associates on the business confidence survey, which was backed by HSBC Bermuda.

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Published Feb 6, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 6, 2015 at 12:48 am)

Population influx needed for economic growth

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