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Businessman Marico Thomas wants more help for entrepreneurs

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Town of St George building with derelict porch removed (Photograph supplied)

A serial entrepreneur with a 30-year track record, Marico Thomas, believes Bermuda is not open for business – at least not for people running smaller companies.

An investment group he leads is in the throes of a major undertaking that will generate jobs and restructure how food is offered, packaged and delivered across the island.

He believes there are levers the Government can use to support such undertakings, especially those making a large investment to generate new jobs.

But while he has seen the Government offer such incentives to hotels, he is concerned that local entrepreneurs trying to do big things are ignored.

“I hear Bermuda is open for business,” he said. “But when I try to reflect to those at the top what I hear from small business owners, and what I see and experience myself, they don’t want to hear me.

“So, I can imagine how owners of smaller businesses get treated when they try to speak to power.”

He employs 145 people now and is about to hire 90 more people full time and add another 35 part-time positions.

But he said: “It would be nice to know government supports me in this endeavour.

“We have to add employees, but the cost of doing this is madness. The changes we have to make internally – administrative structures, back-end processes, additional layers of hierarchy or management, doing things different to try to meet our own goal of putting more Bermudian unemployed people to work.

“These are things borne out of the pandemic and seeing and hearing the struggle.

“But I’m banking on a change in the economy of St George. There is a clear list of things that should happen (cruise ships, hotel business, etc).

“There is very serious risk involved in all the things we are doing. But we are making a large investment in St George and if it doesn’t work, it will affect the entire programme.”

He is hoping to meet with government officials this week to prevent the repeat of a planning debacle two years ago that cost his organisation dearly.

On the eve of the opening of a downtown clinic on Reid Street, he was told that due to no fault of his own, there would have to be a postponement, because more paperwork was required.

Even today, after that delay cost his group more than a million dollars, he said residual litigation could incur further costs.

On another occasion, he said, he was forced to shell out $400,000 on an unforeseen issue.

And then last week, he was told again that while it was not his fault, he had to quit work on his redevelopment in St George.

His group could help breathe new life into the town, but he was shocked to hear a planning official say they had to stop work until administrative matters could be resolved.

Although approved by planning, the exhaust fan on the roof is now deemed to be too large.

Unexpected problems do arise with renovations. He has already run into a local town issue when trying to remove a dangerous, dilapidated porch from the building last year.

He said: “There was a porch out front in really bad condition and about to fall down. After we took it down, we were told it has to be there because it is a Unesco site. So now, it has to go back on at a cost of up to $140,000. It’s probably why the previous owner didn’t take it down.

“It was clearly a safety issue for us, but that was a town issue.”

“We keep finding ourselves doing the best we can to work with the government, making sure everything is done the right way, only to find out later on there is another interpretation.”

Mr Thomas said: “In the beginning of the pandemic, unemployment was an issue.

“We had more than 100 employees and our first concern was how do we keep our staff employed? How do we keep their health insurance? We did everything possible to stay open, finding new and unusual things to do to drive revenue.

“We didn’t take unemployment insurance. We were not a burden on the public purse, whatsoever.

“Now, we’re finding a way to create 90 more Bermuda jobs. There is no other organisation representing 90 new jobs in Bermuda. None. The Government said we need jobs and investment. But no one is saying, ‘we see your problems and let us help’. I’m in business in Bermuda and it is hard. But to then have stuff like this happening?

“When St Regis hotel hired a hundred and something people, there was fanfare.

“We’ve put together an investment group, spent a lot of time and money to help St George, and yes, help ourselves. The first thing we hear is, it is not your fault, but you have to stop.

“This is the fourth time it has happened. It always causes delays and costs money. What do you think lenders say when you tell them.

“It is massively discouraging and massively expensive.

“We have had great support from the mayor, the people and the Town of St George.

“But the bureaucracy and red tape, plus the lack of support is what I feel.

“And I would have thought there could be some ministerial recognition of the difference we can make, the contribution we are making to the island, right now, when there is nobody else doing it.

“There is no one else – no local business – about to hire 90 people full time and then some part time.”

Businessman Marico Thomas(Photograph supplied)
Town of St George building with derelict porch (Photograph supplied)

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Published April 04, 2022 at 8:01 am (Updated April 05, 2022 at 8:06 am)

Businessman Marico Thomas wants more help for entrepreneurs

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