‘Bermuda needs to be dynamic again’
In the third part of a five-day feature on the Cayman Islands' growth story and what Bermuda can learn from it, we gauge views on the business environment in both territories.
Bermuda can learn something from Cayman about creating an environment in which business can thrive and the economy can grow, says a businessman who operates in both jurisdictions.
Randy Stafford has run Stafford Flooring in Bermuda since 1987 and opened a Cayman branch in conjunction with a Caymanian business partner in 2011.
In the nine years since, dividing his time between the two territories, he has seen significant differences in their business environments.
“Because I spend so much time away, when I come back to Bermuda I really notice the changes,” Mr Stafford said, speaking from Cayman. “The energy in town does not seem so dynamic — people don't have the spark or the joy we used to have. How do we get back to that?
“Bermuda and Cayman are two very different countries and not everything they do in Cayman works like a charm. But there are aspects we can learn from.
“In Cayman, it's more ‘can do'. They empower and enable businesses to make it happen. In Bermuda, it's not as easy to do business as it was before.”
He gave a few examples of the differences.
One was the clearing of imported goods: in Cayman the Customs warehouse is open on a Saturday, while in Bermuda a business would have to wait until Monday to get its goods.
Another is the bureaucracy surrounding use of commercial vehicles in Bermuda. “Companies bigger than mine have been taken through the rigours of proving they need a vehicle,” Mr Stafford said. “You can't build a business if you can't equip it properly.” Add to that the need to acquire a permit from the Transport Control Department to use the vehicle on a Sunday. In Cayman, he said, there are no such impediments.
In acquiring work permits, there is a “world of difference” between the two territories, he said. Cayman is more helpful and speedy in issuing short-term permits, for example, he said.
“We are contracted to do jobs and sometimes we have to bring in people with skills not available here,” Mr Stafford said.
In Bermuda, as well as in Cayman, Mr Stafford says he always prefers to hire locals.
“If there are no people with the skills and knowledge I need, I can't hire locally,” he added. “It all comes back to the education system, but we always want to hire locally.
“So what am I supposed to do? Expats should not be frowned on. We bring them in because we need them for our businesses. Our high standard of living was created by that. We don't want to go back to fishing and farming.”
In Cayman, Stafford Flooring is based at Governors Square at Seven Mile Beach, which has been a hotbed of luxury property development over the past decade. Mr Stafford saw the possibilities for growth when he set up in Cayman nine years ago and the business has worked out well. It also serves as a base for serving clients in the wider Caribbean region.
Whenever Mr Stafford returns to Bermuda, businesspeople from many different sectors ask him about Cayman.
“Why?” he said. “Because Bermuda is shrinking — the population is not going in the right direction. In Cayman, the population is heading north.
“Business is the engine that can help Bermuda recover. And if business is choking, which it is, it's going to get flu, and at that point, the whole dynamic of Bermuda changes.
“Down in Cayman, people say to me, ‘Bermuda used to be the crown jewel'. Well, it's not the crown jewel now and it's time to roll our sleeves up and get our hands dirty.
“We've got to get back to the nitty-gritty of making business work. You can't impede it. We need to become dynamic again.”
The Government needed income to fund public services and that revenue could only come from the taxation of a thriving private sector, he added.
“If you have individuals or entities saying ‘we want to come and invest', the Government needs to be in a position to work with them,” he said. “They need to talk to everyone. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn't.
“I want Bermuda to succeed. It doesn't have to always be the best, it just needs to work so you can build affluence on it.”