Carrying on the Chamber’s mission

New Chamber of Commerce President Paul Byles speaks at the Chamber's annual general meeting last month. - Photo: Ken Silva

The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce has a new face at its helm as of last month, with Paul Byles replacing Kyle Broadhurst as the organization’s president.

However, not much will change under the new president’s leadership, Byles told the Journal last month. Instead of instituting his own vision and plan for what the Chamber should do over the next year, Byles is taking the proverbial baton from Broadhurst, with the plan of continuing a three-year advocacy and action plan that was developed in late 2017.

That action plan focuses on four broad issues to improve the business and wider community: education, employment, and workforce development, economic growth and diversification; regulatory efficiency; and community development. Within those issues are a number of specific goals – some of which were accomplished under Broadhurst’s tenure, and others that Byles hopes to carry out this year.

Last year, Broadhurst made much headway in the education category, spearheading the Chamber’s “Growth Matters” campaign – a series of videos that explained the importance of economic growth to the territory, and how that growth is generated.

“The campaign was a resounding success, with the educational videos having been viewed hundreds of thousands of times by a worldwide audience,” Broadhurst said at the Chamber’s annual general meeting last month. “We were presented with two international industry awards for this outstanding campaign, and other Chambers from the Caribbean region have reached out to us for guidance in creating their own, similar initiatives.”

Broadhurst also talked with a number of education officials throughout the territory, getting their feedback on what are the major issues facing educators and students today. Byles said he plans to take that feedback and formulate a plan for how the business community and the schools can partner to prepare students for the workforce.

One of Byles’s major goals that he hopes to accomplish during his tenure is the creation of a vocational program for teenagers to learn technical skills. He said he plans to meet with businesses and other “stakeholders” to get this done.

In addition, the Chamber will continue to help carry out annual events such as the career fair, the Mentoring Cayman program, and the Junior Achievement program.

As for the category of economic growth, the Chamber is aiming to help establish a “small business center” that offers members with business support services, training, and other assistance.

Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew said at the Chamber’s annual general meeting that establishing such a center is also a goal of the government.

Another category the Chamber has been working with government on is achieving regulatory efficiency. At last month’s annual general meeting, Hew promised a number of policy changes aimed at growing Cayman’s small-business sector.

First, government will eliminate the requirement for business and trade license applicants to provide a cover letter, a business plan, strata approval and character reference, he said. Government was wrapping up this phase at the end of January.

The second phase will entail the elimination of bank reference and utility bill requirement for Caymanians, as well as the Department of Environmental Health and Planning Department approval requirements, according to Hew.

The minister also said government will remove the requirement to provide evidence of compliance with pensions and health, and the requirement to submit corporate documents. These will instead be accessed from the General Registry system.

Hew said this phase should be completed by the end of March.

The Ministry of Commerce is also making efforts to allow people to file their applications for license grants and renewals online, according to the minister.

“These changes are being developed as a part of an ongoing e-government initiative,” he said.

Additionally, government is renewing its micro- and small-businesses incentive program for two more years, which Hew said will allow those entities to benefit from reduced license fees.

Byles touted the impending changes as a positive change for the business community.

“These changes will make it easier for Caymanians to start their own business, and in turn will help to boost our economy,” he said. “On behalf of the [Chamber] Council, I would like to thank the honorable minister for this outstanding initiative. We will collaborate with the ministry in any way possible to ensure this initiative succeeds, as we are a Chamber for all businesses.”

However, Byles said that the business community should not just rely on government to improve the territory’s economic environment.

“We don’t need a new policy or a new piece of legislation to get everything done,” he said. “We can work together to get things done.”

Byles said the Chamber can help do this by continuing to put on training, educational seminars, networking sessions, and other events.

He also said the Chamber will continue to work towards educating businesses about regulatory requirements, and how to navigate government’s red tape.

“We can educate the private sector so they know what to do,” he said. “It’s not all about government being inefficient.”

In terms of the last category, community development, Byles said the Chamber will continue to undertake annual events, such as the Earth Day roadside and beach cleanup. Additionally, the Chamber plans to initiate a public awareness anti-littering campaign to make residents aware of the impact litter has on the environment and the perception of visitors, potential investors, and other residents.

Byles said he hopes to engage with the community to change their impression of what the Chamber does. Some people think that the economy is a zero-sum game where one person’s profit is another’s loss, and some think that the Chamber only represents Cayman’s big-business interests, according to Byles.

But that’s not the case, he said.

“That’s a pet peeve, if I have any. I hope I can try to get the message across that commercial success does not equate to abuse of anyone or anything,” he said. “And the Chamber is for all businesses. In fact, most of our members are small businesses.

While the Chamber’s members employ about 18,000 people in total, most of the members only have between three and 15 workers, he said.

“If the Chamber was a person, he would not be a wealthy guy making lots of money in the corner. If the Chamber was a person, you would get a hardworking entrepreneur of 3-15 staff workers making a small profit or just breaking even,” he said. “That’s the true profile of the vast majority of members – a plumber on Eastern Avenue trying to hire a Filipino or a Jamaican to lay bricks. That’s the vast majority of businesses.”