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Freeport looking forward

Freeport looking forward

President of Grand Bahama Port Authority lays out his vision for the growth of Bahamas' second city

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 21, 2010
January 21, 2010
Steve Cotterill

The city of Freeport in Grand Bahama was built on a blueprint mapped out by industrialists midway through the last century. The Hawksbill Creek Agreement, ratified in 1955, put in place an administrative infrastructure and a far-reaching strategy to develop Grand Bahama as the industrial hub of the nation.

At the heart of this was the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), which was tasked with the development, administration and management, and provision of services within the port area. The organization was mandated to build a deep-water harbour, an industrial community and the required infrastructure for Freeport.

Some 55 years after the agreement was signed, GBPA is still central to activities in The Bahamas’ second city. GBPA is now primarily owned by Inter-continental Diversified Corporation (IDC), and its function is mainly a regulatory one, having responsibility for building and sanitary codes, inspection, environmental compliance, town planning regulations, business licences, city management and maintenance, and utility rate regulations. Revenue is derived mainly from licence fees, service charges and building permit fees. In addition to funding the regulatory administration of the port areas, these fees are used for general administration, road maintenance, signage and landscaping of a large part of Grand Bahama island.

Charting a new course
Since the early years, Freeport has enjoyed times of great growth but has also had to withstand prolonged slumps. The recent economic environment has had an impact on Freeport’s industrial sector, and the overall investment climate, as it has had all over the world. The port authority itself has also been embroiled in a lengthy shareholder dispute.

In an effort to steady the ship, GBPA has recently installed a new executive team to help pilot Grand Bahama to more prosperous times. Austrian-born Hannes Babak–a longtime permanent resident of The Bahamas–has reprised his role as GBPA chairman and is charged with the economic and business development of the island. Grand Bahamian Ginger Moxey now serves as the newly appointed vice president and has responsibility for corporate relations and administration, community relations, and employee relations, as well as marketing, among other things.

Fulfilling the role of president is Ian Rolle–a Grand Bahama-born entrepreneur with a strong background in accountancy and financial analysis. This crucial role is at the heart of GBPA’s efforts to reinvigorate the local business environment and further the sustained economic development of the island.

“We have a new team here at GBPA. They are young, eager and wanting to make a difference,” says Rolle. “Most importantly we each have specific skill sets. My strengths are in business development and finance. The chairman has a strong background in international development and management, while the vice president is extremely experienced in marketing and corporate relations. The combination of these skills, coupled with our passion in a common vision for The Bahamas, gives a new thrust for the Port Authority.”

Massive potential
It has often been said that Freeport has a lot of potential that has yet to be realized, and this is what enticed Rolle to move back to the island, joining GBPA in April 2000 as a group financial analyst and relocating from Nassau. “I was actually born here, but I really fell in love with the island during my visits to see my father and during my frequent business trips from Nassau.”

Bringing his young family over with him, Rolle felt that Freeport offered a great opportunity both professionally and personally. “I thought I could raise my children in a more family-oriented environment. The lifestyle in Grand Bahama affords you more time to bond with your family. I also felt Freeport had massive potential and was about to take off.”

Since his appointment as president in February 2009 a number of strategic plans have been put in place to help realize that potential. “Three years ago I had a vision of how GBPA should operate, and that vision basically entailed bettering the lives of the residents of Grand Bahama and, by extension, the entire archipelago by using the resources that exist here,” says Rolle. “I wanted to focus on meeting the basic needs of the people: food, shelter, education, health and wealth. The plan is to create various initiatives that fall under these different headings.”

To this end, Rolle has been working to attract companies that specifically cater to these needs. Plans are starting to form regarding using the transshipment hub that already exists to distribute food produce locally, and the Downtown Turnaround Initiative is designed to improve the living conditions in Freeport centre.

One of Rolle’s chief concerns is the cost of energy on the island. “If we could reduce the cost of energy, not only would we be fulfilling part of our mission statement to better the lives of the people, but we would also attract significant industry.We are the driving force behind an initiative to develop alternative energy on Grand Bahama.

“The Air and Sea Business Park has not yet been developed due to the high energy costs. Within ten years costs will be as low or lower than in Florida, and that will attract major players to the island.”

New, robust business
Over the next five years, Rolle says he will be concentrating on building what he calls “recession-proof businesses.”

“I see a major university coming to fruition with expanded research and training facilities. We already have Ross University,” he says. “I see growth in the field of medical tourism, with the establishment of a very high-end facility catering to specific surgical procedures for patients from overseas. More people are willing to travel to have [cheaper] medical procedures … and insurance companies are happy because they also pay less.”

To shore up these prospects, GBPA has commissioned a group of health experts to put together a medical plan, the first phase of which is already complete.

Rolle also sees a major population growth in tandem with these initiatives and a resurgence in manufacturing on the island. “In The Bahamas we don’t have restrictions such as import quotas because of our relationship with the US. So an idea could be for those businesses to set up here and benefit from our unique advantages. I see highly automated manufacturing as being one of the main types of industry attracted here in the future–particularly for those companies whose major market is the US.”

Importantly, industry players share this common vision for the island and have faith in the new-look GBPA executive team. “It is a very promising combination,” says Gregory Moss, president of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce. “It brings to the forefront modern thinking. A key element is that they provide for a division of labour. Hannes Babak has extensive international experience, whereas Ian Rolle has a tremendous capacity to manage talent and people. We are well positioned for future development at the Port Authority.”

Although Grand Bahama has a way to go to make Rolle’s vision a reality, the building blocks are in place, and GBPA is fundamental to its growth. “My passion is to make a difference, not only for the company but for The Bahamas,” says Rolle.

To read the complete question and answer session with GBPA president Ian Rolle, please see the Bahamas Handbook 2010 50th-anniversary issue.

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