Eleuthera – Prosperity On The Way?
'The trick is to make sure you don't die waiting for prosperity to come' – Lee Iacoca (Business Leader)
The name "Eleuthera" means Freedom and is said to originate from, William Sayle. As can be expected of any developing island economy Eleuthera has experienced both good and bad times. Historically, the people of Eleuthera have made their living in the fishing, farming and tourism industries.
Eleuthera features lovely pink sand beaches, rolling green hills, quaint villages, rugged cliffs, and red soil (which is good for growing pineapples), and caves. Eleuthera has a number of advantages: it is within close proximity to the capital Nassau, easily reachable from North America, and is large enough to offer variety for visitors.
Some readers may recall the periods when Eleuthera enjoyed a vibrant economy and full employment for islanders. During the 1950's the French Leave hotel in Governor's Harbor, later replaced by Club Med, was the lynchpin of the Eleuthera economy.
In recent years, the economy has been in decline due in part to the closing of most of the major resorts on the mainland, the setbacks resulting from the devastating hurricane Andrew, and more importantly the failure to attract new investment.
The glory days of the once thriving Rock Sound Club and exclusive Potlatch Club have disappeared. The Windermere Island development, Davis Harbor, Cape Eleuthera, and Cotton Bay, with its world-class golf course and expensive homes, have not yet achieved the level of success expected.
The airport at Rock Sound that once accommodated jet aircraft from the USA on a daily basis is now under-utilised. Indeed, it is quite remarkable that the once promising growth trends emerging in Eleuthera have stagnated. Presently, there is no data available on the growth and employment level in Eleuthera but my guess is that they are far below the national average.
The Census of Population & Housing report 2000 published by the Department of Statistics shows that in 1901 the population of Eleuthera amounted to 8,733 compared with 12,534 for New Providence. In 1970, the population of Eleuthera amounted to 7,536 compared with 101,503 for New Providence. In 2000, the population of Eleuthera amounted to 7,999 compared with 210,832 for New Providence.
Alternatively, approximately 70 per cent of the Bahamian population lives in New Providence. Many persons from Eleuthera over the years have left for Nassau and other countries in order to find jobs, boost incomes, and further their education.
This trend has accelerated in recent years due to a lack of opportunities and the general decline in the economy of Eleuthera. Certainly, many persons of Eleuthera descent have been very successful in the fields of education, construction, medicine, and business.
However, the fact that many have not returned to invest and contribute to the further development of Eleuthera has served to hinder progress. Meanwhile, the lack of incentives to migrate from Nassau presents another hurdle.
One idea that has merit is to grant title to commonage land to enable development for residential or commercial purposes. Another is land reform. Apparently, large tracts of land have been purchased by non-residents and held for a long period of time without any development taking place.
The under-utilisation of resources and inertia stand out upon visiting Eleuthera - for example, the failure to utilise any of the facilities left by the closure of the naval bases. In part, this is a remnant of slavery days and the mentality fostered from being ruled by others. Specifically, people that have not had to think for themselves and plan for the future tend to focus on day-to-day activities.
Still, it is undeniable that the people of Eleuthera are a hardy lot. Despite the difficult economic times there are many examples of hard work, perseverance, initiative, ambition and vision. Local entrepreneurs such as Mr. Albert Sands and family, and the Symonette brothers and family (in Rock Sound) to name a few, have significant plans afoot to further develop the island.
Mr. Wakie Cooper, owner of the Unique resort facility has weathered hopefully the worst of the slowdown in tourism in the central Eleuthera area. Lionel Fernander, the proprietor of the "Sunset Inn" in Governors Harbor is also quite knowledgeable about the economy.
Instead of simply waiting for foreign investment, a fair number of locals show the determination and ability to push ahead with their own plans. For example, Mr. George Bullard in Bannerman Town is one of the vendors that sell Bahamian tourist items outside the Princess Cay cruise facility. His goal is to have full access to the guest visiting this private facility. Specifically, the guests should be informed that locals have stalls set up just outside with attractive wares and let them decide if they wish to explore this area. Further spin-offs that would benefit locals include bus tours and visits to local restaurants. Ambitious Bahamians like Mr. Bullard need to be promoted and encouraged.
Mr. Kevin Cooper, a local artist in Rock Sound shows great promise and will be quite successful in the art world.
The second home market provides a steady source of income for Eleuthera residents. The construction trade has benefited from the growth of the second home market and Eleuthera can boast of producing many skilled craftsman. Vocational training should be available to high school graduates to ensure that they can pursue careers in the service fields.
Homeowners provide opportunities for caretakers, domestic help, and home repair and maintenance jobs. In addition, the many foreign homeowners provide a ready market for local restaurants and services. Many homeowners also rent out their houses. This practice has caused some discomfort for hotel operators in a difficult economic environment.
The "Fast Ferry" transit service between Eleuthera and Nassau is a development that should lead to greater linkage between the two islands. If properly developed, Eleuthera has the potential to supply the tourist sector with a fair amount of the fruit, vegetable, and marine demands. Given that many Bahamians may not elect to work in the hot sun, further expansion of the agriculture sector will require the import of foreign laborers and appropriate technology.
Promises of prosperity, being right around the corner, have been heard many times in the last few years. Accordingly, a high degree of skepticism greets any pronouncement of major economic development projects on the island. Presently, there are a number of projects expected to significantly impact the residents.
One good sign is that real estate sales have been brisk, especially beach front property. So far, this has not resulted in a construction boom. Ultimately, the recovery of Eleuthera depends on the inhabitants. They can play a key role in making investments on the island a success. They have to demand the attention of their representatives and attract those individuals who have the vision and imagination to foster development.
By Andrew Strachan
Andrew Strachan is employed at Bank Leu Nassau Branch one of the leading private banks in Switzerland in the capacity of Vice President Portfolio/Relationship Management. This article does not reflect any views of Bank Leu.