Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, at a forum last night on plans to boost the island’s economy (Image courtesy of CITV)
Bermuda’s blueprint for diverse, sustainable economic growth will come with closing the gap between “jobs that are in demand and the supply of labour”, Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, said last night.
Mr Hayward told a panel that a new economic strategy came against the urgent backdrop of “demographic challenges in Bermuda”, with the population declining and “ageing at a rapid pace”.
Automation and digitisation would be key in accelerating work-permit processing and closing the “mismatch” in many job categories, he said.
However, Mr Hayward said the latest data showed the island’s economy continuing to grow.
The Government’s economic development strategy 2023-27 was launched in June and featured in the latest Throne Speech, with five priorities.
The 63-page document is based on local and international business expansion and retention; attracting businesses and promoting investments; entrepreneurship and small-business development; continued execution of the Economic Recovery Plan; and “investing in people”.
Mr Hayward was joined at the forum by David Hart, chief executive of the Bermuda Business Development Agency; Malika Cartwright, the director of the Department of Workforce Development, and Jaché Adams, chairman of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation.
It was moderated by business podcaster Shivani Seth.
Mr Hart highlighted the BDA’s focus on the island’s “really solid foundation in the risk sector”, particularly climate risk and emerging technologies.
“Change will only speed up,” he added — to be met by “fit for purpose” legislation and regulation.
He said the island was placed to become a world leader in climate-risk finance, with two climate summits now hosted.
He said the island had been able to win in the past week a new client devoted to investing in new technology to help the world reach net zero in carbon emissions.
Building the BDA as an investment promotion agency would involve “investigating what others are doing” to become “the best in class”, he added.
Mr Hart said Google had shared it had a “40-year vision” for Bermuda as a hub for transatlantic cables, given the island’s “perfect” location for the firm.
The island’s real estate sector is almost at capacity, Mr Hayward told the panel, with growth also set to continue in the sector of financial and insurance services.
Real estate, the second-largest sector, comes with a need to expand economic empowerment zones, with the Government doing its utmost to increase housing in tandem with private development, he said.
Mr Adams said that “the housing situation is an absolute national priority” and that the BEDC was “on the fringe of getting large-scale residential developments’ shovels in the ground”.
The wholesale and retail sector, where employment is primarily Bermudian-based, is heading more to e-commerce than traditional bricks and mortar.
Mr Hayward highlighted the agriculture and fisheries sector, now representing less than 1 per cent of economic activity in Bermuda, as requiring growth.
“We’re working with agronomists, economists and also with our local farming community.”
The economic investment certificate programme was extolled by Mr Hayward for bringing more than $440 million into Bermuda.
Mr Adams said the BEDC was focused on building its business registry, which at present has about 2,000 businesses on it, to better track small and medium-business growth.
About 70 per cent of those polled reported wanting to start a business, with 50 per cent of people who successfully opened businesses saying they looked forward to opening another.
Ms Cartwright said: “We have to create networks. People think it’s a lonely journey to be an entrepreneur — it doesn’t have to be.”
She added: “Our job is to connect people with jobs they love.”
Mr Adams linked the investment in people to the launching of signature schools in Bermuda, while Mr Hayward said the economic strategy was “specifically focused on youth”, a demographic where unemployment has dropped from 30 per cent to just over 10 per cent.
He said “every school-aged person in Bermuda” should know the island’s key occupational categories, with the experience and education required.
Ms Seth asked what chances there were for Bermuda to have a university, avoiding students having to go abroad, followed by “quite a chore to bring them back”.
“We always have to think big,” Mr Hayward said. “There’s no reason why we do not have a four-year institution.”
He highlighted the Bermuda College’s work with overseas institutions and said he had been able to study through Mount St Vincent in Canada through those relationships.
There was little fresh detail on the implementation of a national digital bank.
Mr Adams said the Government had identified four options for digital banking, but added: “I wouldn’t necessarily say the plan is complete.”
He added: “Now Government is doing its analysis on those four options, to then choose one of the four.”