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Budget Breakfast hears about the need for retail

A vibrant retail sector is essential for a healthy Bermuda, a leading retailer and entrepreneur told the annual Budget Breakfast presented by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce.

Delight Morris, founder and CEO of Orange Bay Company, said yesterday that the island’s retailers provided about 3,900 jobs.

Referring to comments made by Wayne Furbert, Minister for the Cabinet Office, about the Government’s partnership with the American courier company MyUS, she said: “The minister basically said that ‘retail is dead’.

“And I thought ‘well, wait a minute, if it is dead, what is the plan to employ those 3,900 people and who do you have in place now to pay all the land taxes, city taxes, payroll taxes, and who is actually going to employ people when they are ready to come off unemployment benefits?

“It is unlikely that it is going to be the reinsurance industry.

“So I think that the retail sector needs to be protected, taken care of.”

Ms Morris was joined on the panel by David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance; Kyle Masters, counsel at law firm Carey Olsen Bermuda; economist Craig Simmons, a lecturer at Bermuda College; and moderator Arthur Wightman, territory leader at PwC Bermuda.

She cited an August 2021 survey by the chamber that revealed that 45 businesses in Hamilton had closed for good, while an additional 95 had closed temporarily.

The Orange Bay owner said entrepreneurs are accustomed to “pivoting” when necessary but “there was no pivot like the Covid pivot. Entrepreneurs were literally spinning in an attempt to keep up with the constant changes. Some survived, but many businesses didn’t.”

Saying that retail is “just a numbers game”, Ms Morris said she agreed with Mr Burt’s assertion in the Budget Statement that population growth is a necessity for the island’s survival.

She added: “If our economic pie does not expand, and our local entrepreneurs are fighting over the same 60,000 customers, there will be little collective growth.”

Ms Morris stressed the importance of creating jobs and reducing unemployment levels, adding: “I suspect there is some co-relation between the decline of employment and the shrinking retail sector.”

Of the Budget, she added: “I’m grateful that there are no tax increases, but I am still unsure about how we are going to stimulate population growth, which is what the retail sector needs, and our incentives for job growth.”

She expressed concern about “unknowns” such as the costs of health reform and a minimum wage on her business, as well as the impact that health reform may have on her employees’ standard of living – and the impact of the minimum wage on people’s employability.

Mr Wightman, in his introductory remarks, said: “While the economic shock from the pandemic was profound, Bermuda’s finances have been of serious concern for a long time now.

“For many who were just hanging on, Covid came as a hammer blow. Business closures and the near wiping-out of tourism have put many on and beyond the bread line.”

He said the more than 4,000 CEOs from 89 countries who responded to PwC’s 25th annual Global CEO Survey displayed optimism about continued economic resilience: 77 per cent said they expect global economic growth to improve during the year ahead.

But, Mr Wightman added, “that was before Russia declared war on Ukraine”.

Citing a Financial Times report that said the ‘conflict … has shattered hopes of a strong global economic recovery from coronavirus’, Mr Wightman said: “So this optimism may be shortlived.”

He said there were 40,213 filled jobs on the island in 2008, but the 2021 estimate is 31,250.

Total work permits have fallen from 14,129 in 2012 to 6,140 in 2020.

Mr Wightman said: “Based on our economic situation and trend data, a hundred jobs here or there will not cut it. In order to alleviate our current problems and to address future demographic shifts, the numbers need to be in their thousands.”

He added: “We need a significant influx of Bermudians and foreigners alike coming to reside in Bermuda and we need to ensure that all Bermudians thrive in their own country.”

Delight Morris, founder and CEO of Orange Bay Company, speaking at the annual Budget Breakfast presented by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce at the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club. At left is Kyle Masters of law firm Carey Olsen Bermuda and at right is economist Craig Simmons (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 04, 2022 at 8:02 am (Updated March 05, 2022 at 8:11 am)

Budget Breakfast hears about the need for retail

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