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Infrastructure fund to grow ‘vertical farm’

Parliamentary questions: Opposition senator Dwayne Robinson (File photograph)

Three projects, including a vertical farming facility and a start-up internet provider, could be in line to benefit from the $88 million Bermuda Infrastructure Fund, it was revealed yesterday.

More than a year after the scheme was launched, it has yet to complete any investments other than a small loan to an electric vehicle rental company, which was expected to welcome a further cash injection this month.

Plans for the finance pot were unveiled by David Burt, the Premier, in December 2017, when he said the fund would seek at least $100 million in commitments from Bermuda-based insurance companies to support construction projects, create jobs and stimulate economic growth.

He suggested then that examples of investment opportunities that would be considered included upgrades to energy infrastructure, sewage treatment, redevelopment of the Hamilton waterfront and building mixed-use residential and commercial buildings in the city.

Dwayne Robinson, a One Bermuda Alliance senator and the Opposition spokesman on public works, received written answers to parliamentary questions on the fund yesterday.

He asked earlier whether any projects had been completed and what programmes were under consideration for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Answers from the Ministry of Finance, tabled by Vance Campbell, the Government’s finance spokesman in the Senate, revealed: “The fund commenced operations on April 27, 2018 and has raised approximately $88 million in capital commitments from limited partners including the Government of Bermuda.

“Since coming into operation, the fund has evaluated a number of investment opportunities currently under active consideration.”

In terms of “telecommunications infrastructure and reliability”, the response said: “The fund has signed a term sheet to invest up to $10 million with a start-up fixed wireless internet provider using industry-leading technology.”

Under the heading “food security and affordability, local sustainable agriculture” it added: “The fund is evaluating a $35 million indoor vertical agriculture facility and co-located solar development.”

For “transportation infrastructure for people or cargo” it explained: “The fund made a small loan to a start-up miniature electric vehicle rental business in April 2018 to help it purchase certain assets, and expects to conclude a $1.5 million investment in that company in June.”

Mr Robinson also asked how many jobs for Bermudians were created through fund projects.

He was told: “The fund has yet to conclude on any investments since its launch, except for the small loan mentioned earlier. However, the fund is currently in advanced discussions regarding three initial investments that would potentially add an estimated 80 new employment positions, excluding temporary construction jobs.”

The response also showed that Fortress Investment Group, the fund manager, had been paid $175,342.47 so far.

Mr Burt explained in 2017 that key senior executives of the reinsurance industry had approached the former One Bermuda Alliance government with the concept but a disagreement on the management fee meant the former finance minister did not support the fund.

He said negotiations resumed after the Progressive Labour Party swept to power in July of that year and terms were agreed which “granted the Government a seat on the board in exchange for a guarantee of the minimum management fee”.

The response added: “The Government believes that the fund is in the best interest of Bermuda and Bermudians, who are interested in job creation, and to have international businesses invest their funds locally to help stimulate Bermuda’s economy.”

Management fees are payable semiannually in advance, in an amount equal to 0.75 per cent of capital invested, with a minimum annual fee of $1 million.

If the fee is less than $500,000 semiannually, the Government must pay the difference and that amount represents an interest in the fund.

The fund was the idea of Brian Duperreault, the chief executive of American International Group, who said that the private sector needed to provide the financial impetus to invest in infrastructure improvements.

He was supported by Don Mackenzie, the chairman and owner of New Venture Holdings, and Preston Hutchings, the chief investment officer at Arch Capital Group.

A press release in May 2018 said that the trio raised almost $100 million after “advocating on behalf of Bermuda’s future” through meetings with industry leaders.