It’s tough being in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There’s the omnipresent danger of getting sand in places it doesn’t belong. Cruise ship passengers are everywhere, and you’re not allowed to shoot them. They have something called sand flies, which I’m told are annoying. Many restaurants stubbornly refuse to serve conch fritters, and one place even ran out of rum.
Those hearty souls willing to make the sacrifice contend with a whole host of business challenges, like a 90-percent reduction in corporate income tax, a 90-percent reduction in personal income tax, 100-percent exemption on excise tax, a 100-percent exemption on property taxes and no state or territory tax.
Bah! Can you imagine what a sacrifice it must be spending all that extra money?
I had to know how my peers managed an existence in such a place, so I popped in to ask Wayne Biggs, resident head honcho at the US Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority.
“Aw, that’s easy! We have all the benefits of being in the Caribbean [which he seemed to believe was a wonderful thing] but under the US flag, with all the protections that affords.”
I met Biggs pink-faced and happy, having forced myself to endure the sun-drenched island beaches so much that I sported a red nose that would make a certain reindeer proud. Biggs has lived here his whole life, and the poor guy was so brainwashed he seemed completely oblivious to all the sacrifices you make to live here. Setting him straight seemed unkind, so I played along.
“It’s all about the lifestyle,” he gushed. “Your office can be on your porch or on a beach.”
Well, yeah, there’s that. If you are actually willing to tolerate working from your porch or a pristine beach, it’s easy. The U.S. Virgin Islands is home to one of fastest broadband connections in the Western Hemisphere, which I hear investing companies kind of dig. It’s supported by federal grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and ensures that every business and every resident has access.
Well, great. But why is it so damned hard to find a conch fritter in February?
I let Biggs continue serenading me about the islands he so obviously loves. “We probably have the most robust financial services industry in the US outside of New York, and our back-office and shared services sectors put our competitors to shame.”
He continued, “You give up some of the standard big-city benefits when you’re on an island. There’s no opera here. There’s just stunning beauty everywhere you look, and investment incentives that mean you’ll pay about 90 percent less to be here.”
Biggs insists that those who aren’t already onto this secret investment paradise would be shocked at the high-value industries booming in the territory, like their yacht development industry and high-tech manufacturing.
Well, fine. But no opera? Add that one to the list of sacrifices.
Mr. Biggs and I continued chatting into the afternoon, as he regaled me with stories about their workforce development programs and state-of-the-art communication systems. At some point I’m pretty sure he drugged me because I came away convinced that moving here was a sacrifice I’d happily make.
Even if they thoughtlessly hide the conch fritters from me. And opera.