Economic zone for Cayman

Cayman’s government signed a significant Memorandum of Understanding last month with Hon Cayman Properties which will, they say, tremendously enhance Cayman’s economy, working in tandem with Cayman’s existing highly professional infrastructure to create a special economic zone for businesses involved with pharmaceuticals, information and communications technology, the media and academia.

It’s an ambitious project – creating the world’s first global enterprise city that will stretch over 300 acres of property and encompass six separate but linked campuses.

Premier McKeeva Bush, at the signing of the MOU, said although there are around 3,000 such economic zones around the world, Cayman’s was of particular importance because less than 1 per cent of them focused on science and technology. The business park will be the only one in the Caribbean, the developers said.

The six campuses that are envisaged will comprise the Cayman Internet Park, which will be established to attract information technology and software companies and will represent the largest ICT cluster in the region, while CayBiotech will be a research park focused on bringing in major pharmaceutical companies to the island to carry out their research. No site has been named.

Cayman Media Park, it is anticipated, will be a hub for media-related businesses to operate out of Cayman. It is hoped that media and marketing services, publishing, music, film, new media, leisure and entertainment, broadcasting and information agencies will look to establish Cayman as a base for their business.

Cayman Global Commodities Centre is, according to the Premier, a strategic initiative to centralise the global commodity market in the Cayman Islands, the first of its kind in the Americas time zone, while Cayman International Academic Park will, it is anticipated, be the world’s first technology special economic zone dedicated to higher education. It is envisaged that 500 students will study here, with access to over 30 higher education programmes, including undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in fields such as biotechnology. IT, media, finance, healthcare and so on.

The sixth campus will be Cayman Outsource Park, which will be a small unit facilitating the production and manufacturing of zone-based products in specialist centres in India and Indonesia.

Who is Hon?

The developers, Hon Cayman Properties are no stranger to Cayman, having developed the HSCB building on West Bay Road. The company is a family run business located in California and is run by Barry Hon along with his son Darrell and daughter Deborah.

The Hons are experienced in master planning and development of mixed-use communities, having developed Foothill Ranch, a community in Southern Orange County, California, which is the home to the headquarters of some of America’s biggest firms, including Oakley, Wet Seal and Proboards.

For the Cayman project, the Hons are teaming up with local companies Design Cayman Ltd led by Cindy O’Hara and Build Cayman Ltd. led by Russell Linford.

Future growth for the Islands

The developers estimate that there will be 5,000 direct and 2,000 indirect jobs eventually created at the end of the three-year development. The knock-on effect for Cayman would be to bolster construction and give people the chance to learn and be part of a new knowledge-based industry.

At the signing, Bush said: “It gives untold opportunities for the next generation.”

Cayman Brac would not be left out of the project, it was confirmed. The Brac, Bush said, is ripe for such expansion and as such he was looking at ways to expand airlift to the Sister Island so that planes large enough to carry 45 to 50 people would be able to service the island.

Why Cayman?

Barry Hon said developers chose the Cayman Islands because it is an attractive draw for the likes of major pharmaceutical companies and other big businesses because they are looking for a stable government, British law, a safe place to live and work and a short hop from the US, all of which could be found in Cayman.

“We believe that Cayman is the safest place in the Caribbean and you have the best housing and modern communications,” he said. “You also have great transportation and great schools.”

Most importantly, Cayman has a zero tax base so the research and development side of business can take place in Cayman at a low cost to such industries, while the actual manufacturing can take place elsewhere.

Jason Blake, CEO of Hon Cayman Properties said that Cayman was already the top domicile for hedge funds and therefore already a tremendous intellectual hub and this could now be extended to become a global intellectual hub for research and development, science, technology and academia.

“We want to bring the best of breed here, which will drive economic diversification, drive national growth and really put the Cayman Islands on the map,” he said.

Hon said an important part of the project is to ensure that the people of the Cayman Islands could enter such professions.

“We will be investing in the skill sets, to train people so that they have a future-proofed career,” he said.

Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor Conolly was also at the MOU signing and said she was equally excited about the plans: “I have the audacity now for hope for economic recovery,” she said.

The developers say they have been working on the project for about two years and already have clients lined up who want to be part of the new park. These tenants, according to Blake, are already located in other such zones in the world and are looking to establish in the Cayman Islands. In particular, he said, they were looking to encourage Fortune 500 companies to Cayman.

Bush confirmed that certain legislative changes would need to be put in place to make the project happen and stated that the government had committed to negotiating and agreeing on a detailed agreement by 1 March of this year. Phase one of the project should become operational by 1 January, 2012, the Premier said.

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Developer Barry Hon and Premier McKeeva Bush at the MOU signing ceremony.

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