Cayman’s largest investor, Dart Enterprises, issued a statement Tuesday emphasising its long-term commitment to the Cayman Islands.
With the island’s economy in free fall as a result of measures to suppress the spread of coronavirus, Dart’s CEO Mark VanDevelde said the company would do its part to help the country rebound.
Though hotel staff are likely to be impacted with the closure of Cayman’s borders extended indefinitely, he said the construction sector was gearing up to get back in business as soon as government gives the all-clear.
Amid the current turmoil and significant uncertainty over the global economic impact of the virus, VanDevelde said there were reasons for optimism about the long-term future of the community.
“Despite the uncertainty, Dart remains committed to the Cayman Islands, our home for almost 30 years,” he said in a statement released in response to questions from the Cayman Compass.
“As the country’s largest investor and one of the largest private sector employers, we remain committed to our people, projects, business partners and the wider community, and to helping Cayman transition through the current crisis to economic renewal.”
Construction projects ready to resume
VanDevelde said Dart is “ready and prepared” to resume its construction and development projects, including new residential and office space at Camana Bay and the expansion of the Cayman International School, as soon as government gives the green light.
The construction sector has been earmarked as one area of the economy that could be opened up once the virus is deemed to be under control within Cayman’s borders.
With no tourists coming in, it is considered vital to get money flowing through the domestic economy as soon as it is safe to do so.
Dart’s projects alone will help put 350 people back to work on construction sites and inject $115 million into the economy, VanDevelde said.
He said the developer was also exploring “other opportunities” that could drive economic activity and help Cayman out of the downturn.
Impact of hotel closures takes its toll
The future for the hotel sector is less clear, with government now suggesting visitors are unlikely to return to Cayman’s shores until the end of the year at the earliest.
At the outset of the crisis, Dart committed to covering the salaries of all staff at its hotels, which include The Ritz-Carlton, the Kimpton Seafire and the Comfort Suites, for 10 weeks, despite all three venues closing their doors to tourists.
“It is now clear that tourism will be impacted for considerably longer and our hotels will remain closed for several months,” said VanDevelde.
“ Following government advice, we are now working with our hotel partners to assist employees from overseas to return to their home countries if possible.”
He said the group was looking at “innovative ways to redeploy some staff members” but had to be practical about the economic reality facing the tourism sector in the medium term.
Ken Dart has committed $1 million to a private sector-led fund and has offered to match any other donations up to an additional $4 million.
The fund aims to support emergency preparedness, immediate economic relief efforts and long-term planing for economic recovery.
“By collaborating with community partners to pool our resources and expertise, we can make a bigger impact together,” VanDevelde said.
He said the Dart Grants programme was also putting up $250,000 to support COVID-19 community initiatives.
The statement praised government for moving quickly to protect citizens and said Cayman was in a relatively strong position to contain the virus.
“While we are still in mitigation mode, discussions are already underway between private, public and non-profit organisations to determine how we can aid the country to rebound,” VanDevelde added.
He said Dart was prepared to support relief efforts, as well as to play its part in promoting sustainable economic activity that could help provide jobs and stimulate economic activity.
“Although there are tough times ahead, and COVID-19 remains a fluid situation,” he said, “we have no doubt that the Cayman Islands will weather the storm, and like any storm, there will be silver linings.
“Throughout history, pandemics have brought pain, but they have also marked new beginnings. We have a collective opportunity to rethink what matters, challenge the status quo and re-imagine our future. ”