Published: Jun 21, 2023

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Senator Javan E. James, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Officials from the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park (RT Park) programs and the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) updated lawmakers on the status of operations, initiatives, farming, and funding.

Peter Chapman, CEO of the Virgin Islands Research & Technology Park Corporation, provided testimony on the projects and initiatives. The focal point of RT Park is to continue to make progress in all seven programs and initiatives. They are Accelerate VI, The VI STEM Kids youth coding program, the Tech Village mixed-use and sustainable development project, the VISTA+ (Virgin Islands STEM Talent Archive) talent attraction initiative, the Catalyst Fund Revolving Loan Program, Creative Economy, and the Innovate STT revitalization initiative for downtown Charlotte Amalie. Senator James said he is pleased that RT Park is working on programs and initiatives in the St. Thomas-St. John District and the St. Croix District.

Senator James inquired about internship opportunities for summer 2023 and the number of current employees at RT Park. In response, Aminah Saleem, Chief of Staff, noted that there are limited summer internships available to UVI students. Chapman noted that RT Park currently has fourteen employees, five contractors, and two vacancies for a marketing operation associate and a client relations coordinator. To date, RT Park’s financial success has included generating $13.5 million in financial support and approximately $12 million for the UVI. Chapman credits RT Park’s accomplishments to the implementation of an aggressive and comprehensive economic development programming model. Senator Dwayne DeGraff queried Chapman on career upward mobility for employees. Chapman stated that RT Park manages expectations, has a high retention rate, and has promoted several staffers.

Separately, the committee received testimony on the status of the DPNR Division of Fish and Wildlife in the farming and fishing industries. Currently, there are 250 commercial fishermen at approximately 30 ports across the territory. The Fishing Industry consists of fishing charters, buyers, vendors, recreational fishermen, and commercial fishermen, according to Jean Pierre Oriol, Commissioner of DPNR. One of the goals of DPNR for FY 2024 is to upgrade fisheries-related infrastructure and take bids for construction by the end of that fiscal year, specifically in the St. Croix District. For instance, DPNR collaborated with the VI Port Authority with the use of federal funds to redesign and reconstruct the Frederiksted Fish Market.

Furthermore, at Kraus Lagoon, DPNR is in the design and construction phases of building a new fish market and boat launch. At Gallows Bay, repairs to the pier will commence shortly. Senator Alma Francis inquired about complaints from fishermen. In response, Oriol stated that the two common complaints are that the infrastructure of the fish markets on St. Thomas needs a massive makeover. The other issue is the fishermen’s ability to fish outside the Territory and partner with someone in the Territory for the sale of the catch.

The following senators attended the meeting: Javan E. James, Sr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Diane T. Capehart, Angel Bolques, Jr., and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Marvin A. Blyden and Donna Frett-Gregory were excused.                                                                                                                                  ###

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