For all Grand Cayman’s explosive growth over the past few decades, the Sister Islands have remained relatively unchanged. Whether that is desirable is an open question, as the Compass’ fascinating overview of Cayman Brac, published last Friday, clearly shows.
As the newspaper reported, some Brackers treasure their little island’s quiet atmosphere. At the same time, the lack of opportunities makes it difficult for many young people to stay.
The result is that while Grand Cayman has boomed, the Sister Islands’ population has stayed relatively stable since the 1960s – shrinking over the past decade, down to 2,006 residents in 2018, compared with 2,722 in 2008.
Although the Brac has seen modest economic growth in recent years, a large portion of the population is older. The Brac’s reliance on public sector funding, both through central government salaries, capital projects and other spending, is noteworthy. Already, the Brac’s infrastructure, including water, power, airport, education and telecommunications systems are more than adequate for the current population, several times over. The island’s Faith Hospital has been recently renovated and upgraded.
One promising sign is the Dart Group’s recent purchase of Le Soleil d’Or and exploration of other potential projects on the island. But Deputy Premier and Brac MLA Moses Kirkconnell says much more public investment is needed for efforts to jump-start private enterprise to bear fruit. On the docket are: A handful of new government buildings; continued investment in a new sports complex, including a $9 million (or more) multipurpose centre; and a $35 million project aiming to bring piped water to 80% of the island by 2030.
TechCayman has committed to building data and training centres – if another sub-sea internet cable is laid to the island. Similarly, Scott Development has proposed establishing ferry service to Little Cayman and a sky train along the edge of the Bluff, if a Brac cruise pier is built.
These projects certainly have been welcomed by Brac residents, who will see real benefits from the investments. Whether they will be enough to spur private development remains to be seen.
As this editorial board has written, there is no reason for the Brac not to flourish, possessing as it does the same fundamental natural, infrastructural and legal advantages as Grand Cayman, but there are two important caveats:
First, it will take intelligent planning and consultation to ensure that these major public investments truly lead to sustainable growth of private enterprise – in other words, that money is spent wisely.
And just as importantly, Brac residents must embrace the fact that economic and population growth will necessarily change their beloved island as more visitors and new residents bring their physical presence and leave their mark.