Chamber of Commerce President Johann Moxam says in order for Cayman’s economy to thrive, its population must grow, even if that means increasing the numbers of work permit holders.
Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman on Thursday, Oct. 9, Mr. Moxam said the economy needed a private sector serving more customers.
“It’s no coincidence that during the peak of our economy in 2006 to 2007, while population, GDP and GDP growth were all higher, unemployment was significantly lower, at less than 4 percent,” he said.
He noted that the most recent labor force survey from the Economic and Statistics Office had shown the population of the Cayman Islands has decreased by about 1,000 people in the year ending October 2013.
“While some in our society undoubtedly celebrate the loss of a thousand permit holders competing for jobs with Caymanians, there are two sides to every story,” he said. “The other side of the story is that 1,000 fewer residents means Cayman businesses have 1,000 fewer customers; Cayman landlords, 1,000 fewer tenants; restaurants, 1,000 fewer diners; the Cayman government, 1,000 fewer people spending money and paying fuel, stamp and import duties. That is real money, ladies and gentlemen, real money that is effectively really gone from our economy.”
Mr. Moxam rhetorically asked if anyone thought the contraction of the population by 1,000 people had not negatively impacted Cayman’s economy and led to the loss of jobs by Caymanians.
He said one way to improve the economy, was through growth of the financial services industry, but that new firms had to be welcomed.
“Those that think the financial services sector is doing well enough or even making too much money simply do not understand how the Cayman economy works and its role on the global stage,” he said. “We must find a way to encourage more financial services firms to call Cayman home.”
Growth in the financial services sector would support growth in related industries such as real estate, commerce and healthcare, he said.
“This will require an honest discussion with our people to help them understand that this may result in more jobs for expatriates and population growth, but this will ultimately benefit the Caymanian people,” he said. “These private sector revenues become salaries for Caymanian employees. Revenue growth for businesses means more jobs, stable salaries, benefits, training and career opportunities.”
Mr. Moxam said that the prosperity of the country does not increase by frustrating the private sector.
“Companies making more money is part and parcel of economic growth,” he said. “You increase prosperity by nurturing [the private sector], by unleashing it as a nation’s best source of jobs, income and prosperity. Private sector growth is the rising tide that raises all ships.”
Private sector’s role
Mr. Moxam said the private sector also had to do its part in ensuring Caymanians had real opportunities in the workforce.
“The private sector and some of [the Chamber of Commerce] members must take greater responsibility,” he said. “Businesses must do more to hire competent and qualified Caymanians and provide them with a fair career path and opportunities for advancement.”
Mr. Moxam said Cayman must reward companies that make the decision to hire and retain Caymanians. He mentioned Cable & Wireless, now LIME, and CUC as examples of companies that had made the strategic decision to invest in Caymanians in years past.
“Few local companies are making that type of investment today,” he said.
However, Mr. Moxam recognized that in a competitive market, nationality does not trump knowledge and ability.
“The reality is, being Caymanian in today’s competitive business environment is simply not enough,” he said. “As a country we must set higher standards across the board and honor our previous generations of men and women who made sacrifices and were renowned for their work ethic and attitude. This is our Caymanian heritage.”
Caymanians must set and maintain high standards to earn their rightful place in today’s workforce, he said, noting that employers had to do their part as well.
“For Caymanians to participate in the economic miracle, there must be real employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in tourism, real estate, healthcare, trades and construction, and the financial services sector,” he said. “Government policies must not facilitate or reward any form of discrimination, but we must also prepare ourselves to be today’s workers, tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and Cayman’s next generation of leaders.”
Mr. Moxam said Cayman “must tear down the walls of division and work together to build a new Cayman that is diverse, yet respectful of Caymanian traditions, heritage and our way of life.”
He said Cayman was a collection of different nationalities, cultures and languages.
“We must accept this reality whilst ensuring that we teach each generation that being Caymanian is more than a convenient economic ticket or a passport or a token phrase. Being Caymanian means we are a people who work together for what is best for our islands. It does not matter if you are a multi-generational Caymanian, or a new Caymanian or a want-to-be Caymanian; your voice matters. It must matter.”