EDITORIAL – Help wanted: Only billionaires need apply

An aerial view of the business area of downtown George Town, Grand Cayman
An aerial view of the business area of downtown George Town, Grand Cayman. – Photo: Chris Court

The two drivers of the Cayman Islands economy – financial services and tourism – are powerful, but they are also vulnerable to shifting winds, both metaphorically (attitudes toward “tax havens”) and meteorologically (devastating hurricanes).

Over the past half-century, Cayman has not been the sole determiner of its own success, but instead has demonstrated remarkable adeptness at capitalizing on or adapting to forces originating from beyond our borders.

To become true masters of our own financial destiny, Cayman would do well to supplement our “twin sails” model with several self-sustaining economic engines.

What Cayman needs is a dozen billionaires.

Well, to be more precise, what we need is about a dozen additional billionaires to make Cayman their residence, place of business and/or target of substantial investment.

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The goal is ambitious but certainly achievable. A dozen billionaires is not, really, that many: In its last count of the world’s wealthiest people, Forbes counted more than 2,200 billionaires on the planet.

If we are to pursue “ultra-high net worth” recruitment, Cayman has a good start. By our informal count, we already share our islands with roughly a dozen members of the “triple comma club.”

The most-well-known example is Ken Dart, whose group of companies is the single-largest private sector employer in the country, and whose developments, such as Camana Bay and the Kimpton Seafire, are glittering jewels on Cayman’s landscape.

The newest billionaire participant in our economy, though he has been a regular and longtime visitor to Cayman, is Richard Branson, whose Virgin Group company BMR Energy recently purchased the multimillion-dollar Bodden Town solar plant. A different Virgin company is behind the upcoming KAABOO Cayman Islands music festival in February.

We have in mind other “local” billionaires, the significance of whose overall contributions to Cayman’s economy (much of it “quiet” investment) would likely stun many of our readers. We won’t identify them, so as to help maintain the privacy they value and that our community provides. (However, we will tell you that as a flock, they tend to nest at The WaterColours.)

Billionaires are people, and no two are exactly alike. They do, however, have some things in common.

First of all, they have a tremendous amount of money. Consider that an entry-level billionaire is 1,000 times wealthier than a newly minted millionaire. Compared to a middle-of-the-road billionaire, Cayman’s law firm partners practically qualify for food stamps.

Billionaires have very small personal footprints, with very high returns for the surrounding population. From a country’s standpoint, there is a huge bang in a billionaire’s bucks. The individual billionaire brings economic opportunities without factory smokestacks, traffic jams or disruptions to the housing market.

Another thing billionaires have in common is they aren’t stupid. They are keenly aware they have options across the globe, and they can pick and choose where they want to spend their money (infinite) and time (limited).

Billionaires exist in their own mesosphere, and they have unique sets of wants, needs and demands that they know they have the resources to meet.

We are fortunate to live in a country where we can check off several items on any billionaire’s “must-have” list, including natural beauty, enviable weather, public safety, ease of access to major cities, and, importantly, the freedom for an individual to be as anonymous as he or she wishes to be.

What is absolutely essential to attract billionaires is to offer security, both for their persons and their property. They must also be made welcome, which means providing them with special privileges or accommodations.

For example, Cayman’s current facilities for private aviation are totally inadequate for the “private jet set” who want to live here but operate globally.

Headhunting billionaires is not a job for the premier or any government official. It would be more effective to entrust people with connections to the wealthy elite to invite billionaires to Cayman and to put forward our country’s best case. (Actually, the best recruiters are other billionaires, but we doubt Ken Dart is scouring the Compass’s classified ads, looking for a new job.)

The goal of attracting a billionaire is not simply to attract the individual (however scintillating their personality may be), but to attract their businesses, their friends, and the positive effects they bring with them.

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