Two of the big developments expected to stimulate Cayman’s sluggish economy in 2012 made progress, but not as much as hoped.
Both the Dart Group’s “mega deal” and Cayman Enterprise City’s special economic zone were announced during the first half of 2011, but by the end of 2012, neither had progressed as fast as hoped, for different reasons.
Cayman Enterprise City started 2012 with major victory when a slate of new and amended legislation paved the way for the establishment of the Cayman Islands’ first special economic zone.
One key amendment changed the amount of a work permit fee for those working in the zone to a flat fee of $1,230 instead of a fee based on the job title and level of skill required to perform a particular position, as it is outside of the zone.
Shortly after the legislation was passed, Cayman Enterprise City officially launched on 3 February with an event at the Royal Palms, where then-Premier McKeeva Bush announced the special economic zone was “open for business”.
Cayman Enterprise City consists of six different industry-specific sectors including a Internet Park, a Media Park, a Biotech Park, a Commodities Park, an Academic Park and a Outsource Park.
Although the eventual plan will have Cayman Enterprise City building a campus on a yet-disclosed site in Savannah, legislation passed allowed it to commence operations in several gateway locations near George Town, including the HSBC House, the Grand Pavilion, the Mirco Centre and Breezy Castle near the airport.
On 27 February, the first company licensed as a special economic zone company, MCB Venture Consulting Ltd. occupied space at HSBC House. At the time, Cayman Enterprise City stated that it expected as many as 300 companies to establish in the zone by the end of the year.
However, by late December only about 40 companies were licensed in the zone, far fewer than hoped.
In addition to having fewer companies than expected by the end of 2012, Cayman Enterprise City failed to break ground on its planned campus development, having not hit the minimum threshold of occupancy to commence construction.
A particularly slow summer stymied the lofty projections, but the year ended on a positive note with several companies getting licensed during the fourth quarter. One of those companies related to the part of the Maples law firm IT department that had left Cayman for Leeds, England and Montreal, Canada three years earlier and had now returned.
In addition, there were some 250 companies in the Cayman Enterprise City pipeline, giving positive prospects for 2013.
The Dart Group faced different challenges in 2012.
In June 2011, it had announced a major deal with government that would, in addition to other things, lead to the closure, capping and remediation of the George Town Landfill; the creation of a new solid waste management facility in Bodden Town; the extension of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway from Raleigh Quay Road to Batabano Road in West Bay; the expansion and enhancement of Seven Mile Public Beach; and the closure of nearly 4,300 feet of West Bay Road.
The deal was expected to create a major stimulus for Cayman’s economy and the start of more than 100 condominium units and 60 homes at Camana Bay, the renovation and expansion of what was formerly known as the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, as well as the construction work on the landfill, beach and road projects.
However, the deal ran into public opposition by people who objected to the closure of any part of West Bay Road and others who objected to creating a new solid waste management facility in Bodden Town.
An independent review of the proposed deal found it inequitable in parts, forcing the Dart Group to pay more for the land it would acquire in the closure of West Bay Road.
Even without the finalised deal, the Dart Group started work on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway extension, doing so in a show of good faith in order to help create jobs and generate economic activity. In September, the Dart Group’s Chief Operating Office Jackie Doak announced that an agreement with the National Roads Authority, which had separated the roads aspect out of the overall deal into a self-contained deal, had been finalised and that the first phase of the project – the extension of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway to Yacht Drive, was expected to be completed by January 2013.
That section of road in the first phase of the project includes a bridge that at sometime in the future could have a channel flowing under it. However, Mrs. Doak said there were not and never were any plans to build a waterway that would dissect Grand Cayman and connect the ocean off of Seven Mile Beach with the North Sound, as opponents to the project claimed.
Although the road work proceeded on schedule throughout the remainder of the year, the rest of the elements of the overall deal languished because the final contract had still not been finalised.
In early December, however, Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor said the recent enactment of the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility into local law should not hold up the negotiations. But with the collapse of the UDP government and the installation of a new premier and a new Cabinet, questions remained about whether anything would happen to finalise the deal before the May 2013 general election.