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Businesses open, boats re-floated, hundreds back at work thanks to Rebuild Bahamas
Mar 5, 2016 - 9:58:04 AM

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Five months after Hurricane Joaquin brought the islands in the southern Bahamas to a near standstill, hundreds are back at work, thanks to a united effort by the Rotary Clubs of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation along with volunteers. The economic rejuvenation – still far from complete – was revealed at a press conference at the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce this week when the Rebuild Bahamas team presented its first progress report, noting it had raised more than $828,000 and spent more than $350,000 with applications still under review. Picture l-r, Frank McGwier, Rotary Clubs of Nassau, Shana Edgecombe, Bahamas Chamber. Edison Sumner, Chamber CEO, Diane Phillips, Co-chair Rebuild Bahamas telethon, Roderick Simms, Bahamas Chamber Family Island director, and Sean Brennen, Deputy Chair, Bahamas Venture Capital Fund.

The famed Long Island fishing fleet is slowly returning to the sea, businesses are opening their doors and stocking their shelves, contracts are being let and hundreds of men and women are back at work as commerce begins its welcome recovery from the worst hurricane to hit the southern Bahamas in history.

The positive report detailing how far the work has come – and how far it still has to go -- was revealed at a Rebuild Bahamas press conference today at the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce.

Rebuild Bahamas, a powerful partnership formed in the wake of Hurricane Joaquin between the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC) and the Rotary Clubs of The Bahamas, was announced within days of the hurricane’s devastation.

It flew into action with fund-raising, needs assessment and negotiations with government for tax relief during the rebuilding of businesses. Five months later, Rebuild Bahamas spokesman and Chamber CEO Edison Sumner said, the organization had raised $828,529, just over one third of the $2.2 million needed to help 117 businesses get back on their feet or fishing vessels back in the water.

With long-term attention focused on commerce, clean water and education supplies knowing NEMA and others were working to meet urgent needs and were assisting with housing, Rebuild Bahamas launched an intensive fund-raising drive ignited by a star-studded live telethon that raised $221,000. The Rotary Clubs of The Bahamas raised another $357,000 including a single donation of $150,000 from Louis M. Bacon’s Moore Bahamas Foundation, and the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund offered to match $250,000 in business loans or advances.

“We had needs assessment people on the ground almost immediately,” said Sumner. “Our figures showed that there were 139 businesses impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Joaquin that hovered over Acklins, Crooked Island, Inagua, Long Island, Long Cay and San Salvador for up to 48 hours at the end of September, first of October.”

Of those impacted, 117 businesses applied for assistance.

“The nature of requests for assistance ranged from repairs and replacement of fishing boats, gas and diesel engines, generators, coolers and freezers, to general retail, service stations, tourism-related enterprises and other service industries,” said Sumner.

“Such businesses are the engines of these islands and, very candidly stated, without restoration of businesses to generate employment and circulation of funds, the conditions will continue to deteriorate and opportunity for recovery will diminish. We had to act as quickly and as effectively as we could because many of those persons had no means of income to acquire goods necessary for restoration without these businesses being restored and employment reignited and for that we had to negotiate tax relief extensions as well. We are pleased to say that government understood and responded positively.”

Local Long Island businesspeople were involved in identifying and hiring a company that could refloat the island’s fleet of fishing vessels critical to that economy. All eight of the vessels contracted for have now been refloated “getting over one hundred people back to work and reviving the local fishing industry,” said Sumner.

Only five applications have been presented to the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Fund which set aside $250,000 in special purpose loans for the recovery. Deputy director Sean Brennen said the window on the availability of those funds would close March 31.

Going forward, the Rebuild Bahamas framework will evolve into a structured foundation capable of bringing civic and business resources to bear, responding to natural disasters and assisting with financial provisions and managerial aid for viable businesses following unexpected disruptions and a due diligence process.

“Rebuild Bahamas is a great example of what is possible when groups like Rotary and the Chamber partner for the public good, particularly in response to the unexpected, unpredictable and unrelenting emergency situation,” said Rotary District Governor Felix Stubbs. “Seeing the boats pull away from the dock and head to sea was an inspiring sight and one that reminded us once again of how easy it is to take things for granted until the moment that they are no longer there. Putting boats like Southern Comfort and Summer Crab 2 back to work was all the reward any of us needed.”

Rebuild Bahamas plans to issue a follow-up report in about 60 days and will announce when the Rebuild Bahamas Foundation is formalized and directors appointed.

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