Local attorney and businessman Charlie Kirkconnell is now at the helm of Cayman Enterprise City the special economic zone that opened its doors a little more than a year ago.
The Chief Executive Officer, who learned a solid work ethic from his well-respected father, the late Capt. Charles Kirkconnell OBE, has a bold vision for CEC, saying he and his team are creating something that will positively impact the future of Caymanians and residents.
Question: Not many people in Cayman realize that CEC, the new special economic zone (SEZ), is actually a majority Caymanian owned and operated business. How do you feel about being part of this history-making economic zone?
Answer: I have heard a few people incorrectly refer to CEC as a ‘foreign developer’. To set the record straight, it’s important that people know that we are indeed genuinely majority Caymanian owned and led, and very proud of what we are creating. To my knowledge it’s rare for a project of this magnitude to be owned and led by Caymanians. We are excited to be pioneering a new pillar to Cayman’s economy and bringing interesting new knowledge and technology based industries to these islands. We acknowledge it is not an easy task and it won’t happen overnight, but we are 100% committed to ensuring the success of CEC and to doing so in a way that is beneficial to the Cayman Islands, after all, this is our home.
Question: Your marketing focus is entirely overseas but what is it you would like members of the community here in Cayman to know about CEC?
Answer: I would like the community to understand that the zone makes a lot of sense for Cayman–a successful CEC will make a big difference to the man on the street by diversifying and expanding the economy generally.
In addition to providing direct opportunities to Caymanian individuals and even Caymanian owned companies in knowledge and technology based industries, we see the indirect multiplier effect of an expanding population base and increased foreign direct investment through the zone having a significant impact on the local economy. CEC is currently working with over fifty local professional service providers and other vendors and suppliers. As the operator of the zone we need the services of local suppliers and we refer them to all the new zone companies and their employees. Of course those moving to Cayman need to buy or rent a home, to buy or lease a car and will eat out and spend in local shops.
They also need computer equipment and basic essentials like haircuts, dry cleaning, groceries, and whilst Cayman will always be a small economy, every time you expand it, it has a positive knock-on effect on its residents. The staff of zone companies will also have family members and clients visiting from time to time, so CEC will be adding to Cayman’s business tourism sector by spending in local hotels, attractions and taking taxis etc. Lastly and most importantly, we want our fellow Caymanians and residents to know that we are committed to doing this properly and in a way that we consider the vast majority of Caymanians will support. We want all Caymanians to take pride in Cayman’s Special Economic Zone.
Question: Why is this personal to you?
Answer: Aside from the fact that I am personally invested in the project, CEC is introducing new industries to the island that one day might be industries that our collective sons and daughters, mine included, will choose a career in. Right now there are some fantastic career opportunities available to Caymanians but they are relatively limited. Very simply put–you may become a banker, an accountant, a lawyer or even the CEO of a multinational hotel chain but those careers are not suited to everyone. Cayman Enterprise City will provide future opportunities for Caymanians to take jobs that don’t exist in Cayman today.
If a young Caymanian dreams of one day becoming a research scientist or an engineer for a multi-national ICT firm, as it stands right now, he or she will likely be forced to ask himself or herself ‘do I want to follow my heart to do what I love or do I want to sacrifice my dream so that I can live in Cayman which is my home?’ Cayman Enterprise City will give people the opportunity to choose both. I would feel moved and proud for young Caymanians to someday look back and say “there was a time when CEC didn’t even exist and look at it now. It is one of the backbones of our economy; it’s a major source of pride for us globally.” Just having a part in that is very, very exciting to me.
Question: You are the late Captain Charles Kirkconnell’s son, you have a number of family businesses and you also followed a path into law, so why did you decide to get involved with CEC?
Answer: By mid 2011 I had determined not to further pursue my legal career and was weighing my career options. It was at that time I was approached with an intriguing opportunity to get involved with CEC. After much consideration and in-depth research, I decided to get involved. Of primary concern to me was whether CEC made sense for Cayman.
By introducing new knowledge-based industries, the zone will provide entrepreneurial and academic opportunities which widen the currently limited career choices for Caymanians. We are working hard to open up new opportunities and yes it will take time, but we have a well-thought through strategic plan, which includes a career development initiative and an academic park to assist Caymanians in getting the training and skills they need to enter into those new careers.
Question: What is different between CEC and the normal Cayman offshore business model?
Answer: Historically Cayman has primarily attracted international companies in a nominal way only, often in the form of an exempted limited vehicle for structuring purposes. Through the CEC economic zone these companies are now more easily able to set up a real physical base in Cayman with staff and true operations here. This provides them with an opportunity to establish a substance over form presence that would assist them in proving offshore mind and management.
Question: What are some of those milestones you have achieved in the zone’s first year?
Answer: We began in February 2012 from a standing start with a single client. We had a difficult and challenging start but we feel that we ended up with a very good year. To date we have welcomed 54 international companies to Cayman and to the zone and have another 152 companies in our growing sales pipeline.
We are proud of that achievement. Our campus obviously hasn’t exploded out of the ground but we are well on our way to achieving the critical mass necessary to trigger the start of construction. We have made major strides in 2012 which has set us up for a very successful 2013.
We learned from our clients in 2012 however, that moving a company and staff to Cayman from another country is a much bigger and more difficult decision to take than we anticipated. A client may say “yes we want to move to Cayman and into the zone” but completing the relocation process generally will take at least a 6-9 month process. This is the reality.
Question: What are on your plans for 2013 then?
Answer: We are pushing to close as many of the 152 companies in our sales pipe line as possible this year, to add significant numbers to our sales pipeline and anticipate being able to announce the entry of a few high profile brand clients into the zone. We also anticipate being able to break ground for our campus by the end of the year.
The other major target we’ve set 2013 is to bring 100 companies to Cayman and into the zone by the end of the year including 2 or 3 major brands. We are currently on track to achieve this.
Question: What is your vision for CEC?
Answer: In a nutshell, to build out the new campus to 750,000- 1,000,000 square feet of state-of-the-art office space with a vibrant, new book of industries for Cayman in technology, media, new media and commodities that would likely not have contemplated moving here without the zone.
The CEC Board and our growing staff are very excited about the future. I personally find that each day is very interesting and whilst it’s sometimes a challenge to keep my head above water due to not having enough time each day, it’s never dull and there is always something exhilarating on the horizon. This is very personal to me and the other directors and we thank everyone in Cayman for their support as we create this zone together, as a community.
Question: How has what your learnt from your father Captain Charles affected you?
Answer: My dad led by example. He was not usually the loudest voice in the room, but was a diligent, principled, hard-working and effective businessman who believed that if you work very hard, do the right thing and stay committed, you will succeed. I try and live by that same ethos.
Chief Executive Officer