Grand Bahama Small Business Owners (GBSBO) on Wednesday (February 7) held a press briefing hoping to persuade the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) to consider Prime Minister Dr. Hubert A. Minnis’ suggestion to waive Business Licensing Fees for companies grossing less than $100,000.00 per annum during his address at the grand-opening of Pirates Cove and Bahama Zip Line at Taino Beach.
Lamenting the fact that many long-time Grand Bahama businesses are in peril, members of the GBSBO – D’s Car Rental CEO Darren Cooper; Simply the Best Media president, Clifford Bowe Sr.; Signature Choices and Genesis Street Gear, CEO Alex Thompson and Entertainment Video and Snacks president, Eutoney Pennerman – are voicing their views on the survival of the local small business community.
Although the unemployment rate has trended down for Grand Bahama from 12.4 percent in May 2017 to 12.1 percent by November 2017, truth is too many persons remain unemployed.
Job creation and investment opportunities need to be facilitated by the Government and the GBPA to boost the island’s economy and aid provided to keep the small business community growing, developing and thriving.
According to Prime Minister Dr. Minnis, “Grand Bahama has been a major focus of my government and we will continue to work toward the complete restoration of the island.
“I recognize Grand Bahama as the headwind blocking The Bahamas from taking off and it is essential that we concentrate and remove the headwind for The Bahamas to lift off, therefore I have particular interest in Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.
“Just recently, I have announced that all first-time businesses will be exempted from business license fees and I have also announced that all businesses with a gross of less than $100,000.00 be exempted from business license fees.
“Now I have been traveling to Grand Bahama for a very long time and I know that the Port loves Bahamians just as much as the Government loves us all, therefore I am certain that the GBPA will match the government (in this regard).
“And just as I have said to my Minister of Finance (K. Peter Turnquest) the other day, I am going to say to the GBPA, “do not make me out to be a liar.”
Providing her views on the matter, Thompson revealed she looks forward to the open dialog that should begin to develop between the government, GBPA and the business community.
All parties concerned need to come together, Thompson shared if Grand Bahama and its economy is truly going to grow and be strengthened and sustained.
“Obviously the government has a relationship with the GBPA and a good rapport and the recent suggestion/request made by PM Dr. Minnis has helped to create an invitation for an open conservation with small business owners.
“Undoubtedly, it starts a new conversation as the GBPA has formed the Invest Grand Bahama Small Business Bureau (IGBSBB) expanding their Licensing Department and Customer Service Department.
“Originally the conversation between the GBPA and Small Business Owners was that they are here for us and now, I believe it is evolving to them being here more than ever.
“Personally, I believe all PM Dr. Minnis has done has opened the conversation for the Small Business community and the GBPA; furthermore, I believe it can make a significant difference.
“Literally I have been working in Downtown, Freeport since the age of 18 initially managing a store for nine years and then, owning and operating Signature Choices and Genesis Street Gear for 18 years; obviously I have a love for Downtown, Freeport and Grand Bahama in general as I still live here.
“Definitely I have no interest in leaving, which means whatever needs to be done to make Grand Bahama better must be done and everyone should take a look at what is being done here and come together as a unit of Small Business Owners along with the Government and the GBPA to build this economy,” declared Thompson.
While the request made my PM Dr. Minnis has caused hope to spring in the hearts of business owners, Cooper is hopeful that the GBPA would look into providing the assistance needed to not only new businesses, but those that have been loyal to the community for decades.
He notes that long-time licensees of the GBPA need help and anything that can be done to facilitate the same and prevent the close of businesses should be done immediately.
According to the GBSBO lead spokesperson, “Upon hearing the request of PM Dr. Minnis to the GBPA I immediately thought it was welcomed news for the community of Grand Bahama, as we have been hurting for quite some time and anything that can be done to keep the doors of small businesses open should be explored.
“Additionally, I also believe there needs to be complete clarity on who would qualify for the exemption with the GBPA stating this is what is going to take place, thus ensuring businesses remain operational and persons employed.
“All parties concerned need to come together, making a decision that would positively impact everyone, hence I pray that the GBPA seriously considers the request of the Government, as business owners are continuing to operate in hopes that customers would need the products and services we supply.
“Furthermore, we will continue to lobby the Government as it relates to bringing relief to the small business community in Grand Bahama; honestly I believe better is ahead of us however, existing business owners need relief right away.
“An old adage says, “if a house is closed up it is a dead house, however if someone lives in that house you will never have a caved roof or a wall fall in,” hence when there are businesses closing down and storefronts closed with no action in it the place dies and truth be told Grand Bahama is dying and the community is falling behind,” said Cooper.
Commending the initiative put forth by the prime minister, Pennerman also weighed in on the matter, as he believes by reducing or waiving the business license fees in the area overseen by the Bahamas Government definitely could attribute to better days ahead for small businesses.
He too hopes the GBPA would consider the request of PM Dr. Minnis and find a way to help save existing businesses that have remained loyal to the local community for so long.
“We need this more than ever in Grand Bahama as our Licensing Fees with the GBPA is truly much higher than the Government.
“Personally, I believe if the GBPA would follow through with what the Government has set out to do it would ease the financial burden of small businesses on Grand Bahama; already on a monthly basis stores are closing in the Downtown, Freeport area and receiving some help in terms of reducing or waiving the licensing fees then we would have a chance to survive.
“Many of us have been paying the GBPA fees for years and now that we are falling short, I believe they should look into helping us, taking into account our loyalty in good and bad times,” Pennerman declared.
Twenty-year business veteran Bowe agreed with the sentiments expressed by his fellow GBSBO members.
He too commends PM Dr. Minnis for all that the government is seeking to do and hopes the GBPA gets on-board.
“Many of the older businesses on Grand Bahama are closing due to the economic climate here, which is saddening to say the least, especially as they have been loyal to the community and have paid the GBPA year into year ,faithfully for decades.
“While most of us are trying desperately to hang in there by the grace of God, I think the time has come for the GBPA to pay (older) existing businesses some respect for our loyalty by either reducing or waiving the business license fees, giving us a chance to survive in this ocean of economic turmoil that is going on now.
“Earnestly I implore the powers that be at the GBPA Ian Rolle and Sarah St. George to utilize their power to provide the assistance we need, which they can do with a simple stroke of a pen easing the burden of small businesses in the Freeport area in a tangible way.
“Certainly, each and every small business would be grateful, as we would be able to not only keep our doors open but those employed by us working, which would be a win-win for everyone,” declared Bowe, who noted that this is nothing new or strange for the GBPA as they did this in the International Bazaar a few years ago for new business licensees, who had one year of fees waived.