During a recent exclusive interview with Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) Customer Relations Manager Nicole Colebrooke, she spoke candidly regarding Small to Medium Sized Enterprises (SME’s) here on the island, specifically within the City of Freeport.
She noted that now is an opportune time for aspiring entrepreneurs to pursue their business ventures within the GBPA Port area.
She was questioned, at present, the number of business licensees registered with the GBPA. “Presently, we have 2,908 licensees and of that total, 2,583 are Bahamians,” she replied.
Colebrooke was also asked, over the last two years, has the GBPA experienced an increase in Business License applications and whether or not they foresee a trend continuing.
“As it relates to the overall outlook of the City of Freeport, we are aware that the retail sector in any thriving economy is the lifeblood of a community.
“The retail/service sector make up a large percentage of our licensee base, which is very encouraging. As technology and innovation continue to drive our economy, it is anticipated that more Bahamian Small to Medium Sized Enterprises (SME’s) will emerge and join our retail sector with unique and diverse offerings. It may be a category of business that we are all familiar with, for example a restaurant, which can introduce diverse offerings in terms of using technology through membership and incentives or, introduce a cultural element to the operation.
“I believe that all businesses can be unique in nature and provide an atmosphere that can cater to creatives, artisans and different classes of society by adding different elements, through music and entertainment, arts and culture or food branding.
“We at GBPA support free enterprise and are aware of the heavy concentration of certain business categories, and we hope to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to become more creative through research and marketing strategies to make their business unique and, as a result, put our city in a more competitive advantage.
“There are a number of aspiring entrepreneurs who do not want to operate the traditional ‘Brick and Mortar’ businesses and want to use social media and the like mediums to promote their business. We have recently created business models to encourage those individuals to apply for business licenses.
“While we believe that the economy is thriving, the retail sector has continued to show us positive growth in the economy,” informed Colebrooke.
With respect to the recent announcement of the proposed Carnival Cruise Port and the letter of intent (LOI) being signed between LRHL and Royal Caribbean International for the purchase of the Grand Lucayan Resort, she was questioned whether the GBPA has entertained more business license applications.
“As we get closer to the construction of those projects I believe that the numbers will increase. However, presently, I do not believe that there is a direct correlation to the announcements, for the number of business license applications presently being submitted.
“However, we continue to be encouraged by the number of applications we receive daily, especially, again, in the retail and construction-based sectors.”
She did reveal that the GBPA’s Licensing Department has seen an increased interest for review of cancelled licenses, particularly within the construction areas, seeking to have their business licenses restored.
“We have seen an increased interest in request for restoration of cancelled licenses in construction, and construction related services, which is encouraging because we realize that based on those requests, these individuals are obtaining information to restore their licenses, so that they will be ready for those projects.
“There are arrangements that can be put in place, to restore cancelled licenses and also payment arrangements for existing licensees. Even though a license is cancelled, it can be restored, in addition, any existing licensee can also make payment arrangements (to pay in installments), to alleviate some of the burden, and use those funds in more critical areas of their business to ensure the survival of their operation.”
Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SME’S) are known to play a pivotal role in any economy and the government has now embarked on a programme to assist persons with establishing such via their Small Business Development Centre (SBDC). She was questioned whether or not the GBPA has collaborated with the government in their efforts for entrepreneurs wishing to establish businesses within the Freeport area.
“I am aware that my colleagues have been in contact with the representatives of the SBDC and we will support any licensee that goes through the programme.
“We encourage our licensees to go through that program because we think that it is a wonderful programme; it is needed in Grand Bahama; they also have the funding that is needed for any small business to thrive.
“In addition, we have (GBPA) the Invest Grand Bahama Small Business Bureau, where we normally put on workshops, where they can meet with consultants which is so important, to obtain grant funding to ensure that their business works.
“We have also been a part of the Government’s Grand Bahama Small Business Grant Programme, where we have provided licensing presentations for those individuals in that programme, we have given waivers of their license fees. We will continue to promote and to assist the Government with any program they have, especially as it relates to our licensees,” added the Customer Relations Manager.
Moving forward she was asked what her advice is to persons interested in opening a business here in the city of Freeport and, as well as her advice to existing businesses within the city that may be experiencing difficulty during this downturn in the economy.
“There has never been a better time than now, to obtain a business license. The process is quite simple. If you are thinking about becoming a new licensee, why not now; the opportunities are available to you; the resources are available, and the staff here is available to you. We can take you through the procedures. There are many types of businesses that you may not even be thinking about that are available.
“Now is the time to come in; become familiarized with our procedures to take advantage of the opportunities that are going to be available and coming on stream in the future.
“In addition to that, the possibilities are endless for anyone that wants to open a business.”
“For existing licensees, we realize that you have been here for a while, you have been resilient and resolved in remaining in the city of Freeport and ensuring that the economy thrives; we will continue to work with you through your challenges and also channel them through the Invest Grand Bahama Small Business Bureau, to ensure that they remain successful.
“We are prepared to assist with any challenges or concerns that they may have and they can bring them to us as well so that we can assist in those areas. Our Customer Relations Representatives are here and are all available to them. We can be reached at email@example.com, which is a 24-hour customer service portal, or they can contact us on WhatsApp at 824-4444; or at the office at 350-9050.”
Finally, she was questioned on the requirements needed for submission as a Bahamian, to apply for a business license through the GBPA.
“It is quite simple. Firstly, the applicant must have approved premises; think about your business and prepare a plan; while you do not necessarily have to submit a business plan to us, think about the things that you would want to do, as far as the type of service or products you intend to sell.”
“Secondly, in terms of capital, how much money are you going to invest in the business; again, it is not a requirement to submit a business plan however, you need to think about the amount of funding you are going to inject into the business.”
The process she explained entails completing the application form, providing them with a current Police Certificate issued within the last six months, a current passport and a processing fee of $250.00 subject to Value Added Tax (VAT). The approval process is 48 hours.
In conclusion Colebrooke expressed, “We are encouraged by our licensees over the years. They have weathered hurricanes with us, difficult patches that we have had over the years and the economy is still thriving. We (the GBPA) want to continue to be seen as bettering the lives of those within the community and by extension The Bahamas, by the unique features that we provide.”