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A return to full employment will require a new vision for the Bermuda economy

With each month that passes it becomes increasingly evident that Bermuda needs to discover new ways to rejuvenate the economy. Job creation is stifled because the economic conditions which made Bermuda a success in the past have changed significantly. What is needed is a new vision based on the realities of today’s global marketplace.

Crafting a new economic vision for Bermuda is not a new idea. For many years people from the hospitality and retail industry have been appealing for a new model. And, more recently, leaders from international business sector have been indicating the need for a rethink. So why has a new direction for Bermuda’s economy not emerged?

Like everyone else, I am not sure. But I have some thoughts.

My first thought is that many people simply do not know what is meant by “vision” or how vision is differentiated from plans and goals. My sense is that many of us may have become accustomed to Bermuda bumbling along economically, from throne speech to throne speech and budget to budget. Therefore, people are generally unaware of the value of having a clear vision for Bermuda’s future that extends beyond 12 months.

If that’s a problem, we need to clearly define what vision is and why it is important. For leadership teams I often explain the concept this way. Vision is a clear mental picture of a realistic and desirable future state. Further, I suggest that vision is a concept most clearly and easily understood when placed on a continuum between the concepts of dream and goal. Unlike dreams which may or may not be pursued and will most often never be achieved, a vision is always acted on because it is supported by goals and plans which confirm the likelihood of it becoming a reality.

Another thought that I have had is that perhaps we do have a vision for rejuvenating Bermuda’s economy; it’s just that it is not a vivid or compelling one. For example, perhaps our vision for hospitality at this time is to compete head-on with lower cost destinations for the low to middle income visitor.

Such a vision would result bringing large numbers of low-spend visitors to Bermuda via mega cruise ship and low cost airlines. It also means advertising Bermuda on London cabs and double-decker busses as well as finding new ways to earn more from frugal visitors. Vegas-style casinos would be one example.

Unfortunately such a vision would create relatively low paying jobs and not many of them.

So I wonder if a more compelling and appropriate vision might be to attract relatively small numbers of big spending visitors. This would mean niche marketing to the mega rich in places like Manhattan, flying them here in private jets, and entertaining them in small, ultra luxury resorts that feature table gaming for guests only. My thinking is that unless the vision is to focus on the high margin visitor, it will be virtually impossible to get hotel operators to invest in the hospitality industry and employing Bermudians in decent paying jobs.

Likewise in the international business sector I wonder if Bermuda’s vision “we are open for business” is lackluster. Being “open for business” was an appropriate vision when Bermuda was one of the first jurisdictions to offer a low tax domicile with sensible regulation. But now that competing jurisdictions began replicating Bermuda’s business friendly environment we must evolve our vision to be “we roll out the red carpet”.

But therein lies what I believe is the major reason a new vision for the Bermuda economy has not yet emerged. Rolling out a red carpet for foreigners whether it is a hotel investor or an expatriate employee is not something that the average Bermudian is comfortable with. There is an underlying fear of competing with foreigners. And rather than proactively helping Bermudians to overcome their fear, our leaders tend to preserve status quo, relaxing protectionist policies only to the extent that complaints are not heard.

Sooner or later a greater effort will have to be made to rally Bermudians to accept the realities of the global economy. We have no choice but to face our fears if we want to return to full employment. Any new vision for an economy which creates new employment opportunities will have to embrace foreign investment and human capital.

Doug Soares is a partner of Expertise, Bermuda’s largest management consulting and outsourcing company. He may be contacted at doug[AT]expertise.bm or via www.expertise.bm

Economic engine: Bermuda needs a new economic vision

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Published March 20, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 20, 2012 at 9:13 am)

A return to full employment will require a new vision for the Bermuda economy

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