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Chamber’s new board to focus on small businesses

Newly appointed members of the board at The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce have pledged their commitment to the development of SMEs, which make up around 72 per cent of the Chamber’s membership. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Amid a period of economic hardship and restricted access to credit, small businesses are facing unprecedented challenges. Now, more than ever, the nation’s store owners, service providers, restaurateurs, taxi firms and even straw market vendors need their voices to be heard. Heeding their pleas, the newly appointed members of the board at The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce have pledged their commitment to the development of such businesses, which make up around 72 per cent of the Chamber’s membership.

“We understand that small businesses are the engines of any economy,” says Chamber president Khaalis Rolle. “We are now focusing on putting oil in that engine.”

The five new business executives teaming up with the Chamber of Commerce in the capacity of directors are Sky Bahamas chief executive officer Randy Butler, sales director of The Bahamas Weekly website Azaleta Ishmael-Newry, Edison Sumner of The Bahamas Venture Capital Fund, Arawak Homes president Franon Wilson, and vice president of operations at Doctors Hospital, Michele Rassin.

The new additions bring the board’s total membership to 13.

“This board won’t be a board where we show up for a meeting once a month and pontificate about issues,”?says the chamber president. “We are going to be a working board.”

For Rolle, the board members aren’t just industry leaders. More importantly, they have demonstrated the capacity to deliver.

Case in point, Michele Rassin.

“I know what the struggles are for small businesses–having owned a restaurant in Palm Beach, prior to moving back to The Bahamas in 2000,” says Rassin. “When these businesses thrive the economy does well. But many businesses are suffering right now. We probably won’t see any kind of turn around until 2012.”

Rassin is well known in medical and Rotary Club circles for executing successful projects. One of her more recent undertakings raised almost $400,000 for the purchase of ventilators and incubators for premature babies.

She estimates that in 2009 local businesses were down anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent. For 2010, she pegs the decline as high as 30 per cent in some industries.

Although the chamber is looking to have the government review its proposed draft legislation, which–if adopted–would provide some relief for small business, Rolle says it is also going to take partnership with the financial services sector to turn things around.

“Access to finance is one of the major impediments to small businesses. If you speak to most small business owners they’ll tell you the greatest challenge isn’t the government’s regulatory environment, the greatest challenge is getting access to financing for their businesses.

“Banks operate on a very simple principle: minimize risk, increase reward. If you are minimizing risks, then whenever you give a loan, you want that to be fully collateralize and the interest rate is going to be high because you want to increase the reward. Many small business don”t have the ability to fully collateralize these loans.”

Rolle adds that he doesn’t believe financial institutions have done “a good enough” job of establishing partnerships with small businesses. Through these strategic links the chamber is hoping to “level the playing field.”

Aside from networking opportunities, the chamber also hopes to provide additional resources such as access to the government, lobbying and educational opportunities, while continuing to offer professional courses ranging from accounting to customer service.

“For small businesses, now is the time to reinvent yourself and to focus on the areas of your weaknesses such as cost cutting strategies, customer service, synergies, networking,”?advises Rassin. “”These are all areas small businesses can work on to be ready for when the economy bounces back. They’ll have everything in place and be ready to go.”

According to the head of the Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) Stephen Wrinkle, Cable Beach mega-resort will be pioneering project for the region and vastly improve skill sets of local contractors.

A leading banker in The Bahamas urges those in the resort and tourism sector to target visitors from emerging economies, such as China. "America is in trouble. So, what's next?" asks Gregory bethel, president of Fidelity Bank (Bahamas) Ltd.

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