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Government views vertical farming as new industry, says minister

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Economic growth: Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, at a press conference yesterday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Government is planning to create a vertical farming industry — not just one project, it has been revealed.

Jason Hayward, the Minister for the Economy, unveiled the plan at a press conference yesterday, saying that an announcement on the development will be made within weeks.

The Government first revealed plans for a single vertical farm — in which plants are grown in climate-controlled towers — in November 2020.

There was little progress with the project until March, when Mr Hayward said: “The vertical-farming facility is being acted upon, with a potential location for a large-scale vertical-farming facility under review and financial details in development.”

The project was earmarked as a key plank in the Government’s economic recovery plan after government consultant KPMG said it would be “likely to generate a significant socio-economic impact in the short and medium term”.

Questioned about the project today, Mr Hayward said the Government was viewing vertical farming as being “a new industry … not just one vertical-farming project”.

He said: “If we can begin to utilise technology more so that we can have sustainable agricultural development and we can use the first vertical farm as a catalyst to expand the industry, it will have a wider impact than one single project.”

He insisted that “significant work has been done” on the proposal and that “we will move full steam ahead with the execution and implementation”.

“That announcement we are weeks away from,” he said.

Mr Hayward did not provide details of the three other key projects the Government is focusing on to kick-start the economy — the Tynes Bay incinerator, the development of northeast Hamilton and the creation of a casino industry.

But he did say that he will provide “a fulsome update” of all 31 projects shortly.

During the press conference, Mr Hayward also revealed that Bermuda’s economy grew 5.4 per cent to $6.3 billion in 2021, suggesting that the island was “rebounding strongly” from the economic downturn of 2020.

He added that a positive economic performance was recorded in 14 of 19 industry groups.

But he acknowledged that the economy was still behind pre-pandemic levels. The economy was valued at about $6.45 billion between 2017 and 2019.

Mr Hayward also acknowledged that, according to a snapshot survey, the economy lost more than 1,000 in jobs between 2020 and 2021 — from 32,427 filled positions to 31,316.

According to Mr Hayward, the recovery was led by the International business sector, which increased in value by 8.4 per cent, or $138 million — the largest rate of growth in the sector since 2007.

International business remains the island’s largest employer, with 4,412 jobs in the sector — up 172 on 2020. More than half the positions (2,420) were filled by Bermudians.

The hospitality industry also recorded growth of $63 million, “reflecting a rebounding tourism industry”, according to Mr Hayward.

“As pandemic restrictions eased, Bermuda experienced a rise in visitor arrivals and hotel occupancy,” he said.

Activity in the professional, scientific and technical sector increased 14.5 per cent, or $45.2 million, in 2021. The sub-industry groupings of accounting, legal and professional services experienced the most significant increases.

But the construction industry contracted by 3 per cent during the year, while financial and insurance activity fell 0.1 per cent.

It was also a tough year for shopkeepers, with the wholesale and retail sector shrinking by 0.7 per cent owing to lower sales of food, clothing and building materials.

Addressing the drop of 1,111 filled positions between 2020 and 2021, Mr Hayward said that many of the job losses were a result of the closures of the Fairmont Southampton and Elbow Beach hotels, along with job contraction in Bermuda's two largest banks.

The employment survey also revealed several professions which primarily employed guest workers — such as chefs and waiters, farm workers, actuaries, care workers, pharmacists and nurses.

By the numbers: 2021 employment survey

2020-21 Highlights

• Total filled jobs decreased 3.4 per cent (-1,111) to 31,316

• Filled jobs for males decreased 3.6 per cent (-596) to 15,855

• Filled jobs for females decreased 3.2 per cent (-515) to 15,461

• Filled jobs for the 40-to-54 age group declined 4.3 per cent (-504) to 11,297

• Filled jobs by Bermudians fell 3.3 per cent (-747) to 22,003

• Filled jobs by other non-Bermudians declined 3.8 per cent (-276) to 6,952

• Filled jobs by Blacks decreased 3.8 per cent (-652) to 16,522

• Filled jobs within accommodations and food service activities decreased 14.3 per cent (-515) to 3,076

• Filled jobs among service workers and shop and market sales workers declined 6.3 per cent (-393) to 5,851

• The median gross annual income for all job holders increased 2.7 per cent (+$1,768) to $66,836

Mr Hayward said: “These high-demand occupational categories highlight jobs that are commonly held by non-Bermudians. The department of workforce development will partner with relevant organisations to expand and realign training opportunities to increase the percentage of Bermudians in high-demand job categories.”

Summing up the statistics, Mr Hayward said: “While general economic performance is good news, we must continue working together to sustain Bermuda's economic growth and increase the number of available jobs.

“The Government will continue to facilitate the expansion and sustainability of Bermuda’s economy, creating a business ecosystem that allows companies to thrive. The country’s 2021 economic performance creates a strong platform for further economic growth and increased opportunities for Bermudians.”

David Burt, the Premier, is expected give an update on the state of the economy in the House of Assembly on Friday.

• To read Mr Hayward’s statement in full click on the PDF under “related media“.

• To read the 2022 employment survey in full click on the PDF under “related media“.

* This story has been updated to provide more information from the minister’s press conference this morning.

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Published September 29, 2022 at 2:59 pm (Updated September 29, 2022 at 2:59 pm)

Government views vertical farming as new industry, says minister

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