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 School of Agriculture shared updates on the status of its programs, funding, and grants. Separately, the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority updated lawmakers on operations, the Vision 2040 plan, and capital projects.
David Hall, President of the University of the Virgin Islands, noted that one of the major accomplishments is establishing a positive reputation with farming communities locally and internationally due to the members of the Cooperative Extension Service Program. A program responsible for planning the Agriculture and Food Fair, celebrated annually. However, one of the major hurdles at the time of establishment was the university’s inability to allow students to earn degrees in the field of agriculture upon completing the UVI School of Agriculture. The purpose of the school, established in 2021, is to fulfill the Land Grant mission, which comprises cutting-edge research, extension, and teaching programs. Progressively, Hall shared that with much hard work, UVI presently offers students six certificates, four Associate of Applied Science Degrees majoring in Agroecology, Agricultural Business, General Agriculture, or Horticulture; and two Bachelor of Science Degrees in Aquaponics or Horticulture.
According to Hall, the School of Agriculture is funded locally and federally, totaling $2,724,018.00. Local matching funds total $622,501, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, with a combination of three grants, totals $2,101,517. Additional federal funding totals $1,951,732.00 from the Smith-Lever funds with the local matching fund of $631,593; totaling $2,853,325. Senator James inquired if there is a blueprint for ensuring continuity to ensure the progress of the program. In response, Hall indicated that working on the advisory committee is a top priority. Once the committee is functioning, the continuity of the program is ensured by Hall’s successor because a blueprint for the program will be developed.
Separately, Wayne L. Biggs, Jr., Chief Executive Officer of the USVI Economic Development Authority shared an update on operations and the Vision 2040 plan. Presently, there are a total of thirty-seven employees Territory-wide. Out of that twenty are in the St. Thomas-St. John District and the remaining are employed in the St. Croix District. There are a total of fourteen vacancies at the Authority. Regarding the Vision 2040 Plan, Biggs noted the plan is a blueprint designed to drive economic development initiatives for the public, non-profit agencies, and private companies. Some initiatives under the Vision 2040 purview are the VI Slice Moderate Income Homeownership Program, the Small Business Innovation Grant, the Solar Plus Financing Pilot Program, USVI Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act 364, and the Fisheries Financial Assistance Program 1.0 and 2.0. In terms of capital projects, the VIIP project on St. Thomas will occur in two phases. Biggs stated that Phase I consists of impact resistance window installation, roof replacement, and more. Phase II comprises building a second floor with 10,000 square feet of office space occupied by VIEDA.
The following senators attended the meeting: Javan E. James, Sr., Marvin A. Blyden, Alma Francis Heyliger, Diane T. Capehart, Kenneth L. Gittens, Donna Frett Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., and Dwayne M. DeGraff.