CEO perspective: Optimism and investments as a catalyst

By: Mark VanDevelde, Dart CEO

In just a few months, COVID-19 has changed our world dramatically, and we have had to adapt quickly to a new way of working and living. Although much is still unknown about the virus and the extent of the global economic impact, I am confident we have many reasons for optimism about the long-term future of our business and our community.

Despite the uncertainty, Dart remains committed to the Cayman Islands, our home for almost 30 years. As the country’s largest investor and one of the largest private-sector employers, we remain committed to our people, projects, business partners and the wider community, and to helping Cayman transition through the current crisis to economic renewal.

The Cayman Islands Government has taken swift, decisive steps to protect our health and Cayman is currently in a relatively good position in containing the virus. While we are still in mitigation mode, discussions are already underway between private, public and non-profit organisations to determine how we can aid the country to rebound. 

Dart is committed to supporting emergency relief efforts needed to alleviate the economic and human hardships caused by the pandemic, as well as promoting and facilitating sustainable economic activity within our jurisdiction.   

Relief efforts 

Last week, Ken Dart pledged CI$1 million to a private sector-led fund and has offered to match any other donations up to an additional CI$4 million. The intent is to provide support through various phases of recovery, from emergency preparedness and immediate financial relief to longer-lasting economic development. By collaborating with community partners to pool our resources and expertise, we can make a bigger impact together. 

In addition, our annual Dart Grants programme which donates $250,000 each year to local non-profit organisations, will be redirected this year to support COVID-19 community initiatives. 

 Economic catalyst 

Dart is ready and prepared to resume construction and development projects as soon as Government deems it safe to do so. Premier Alden McLaughlin has indicated construction is likely to be one of the first industries back to work, and our design and development teams continue to make solid progress on some of our pipeline projects.

Dart currently has three major projects underway: the Cayman International School expansion is in the final stages of completion and we have broken ground on a new commercial office and residential building at Camana Bay. These two projects alone will employ approximately 350 construction personnel and represent a minimum US$115 million investment in the local economy.

In addition, we have several projects in the feasibility phase and are actively exploring new opportunities that can further drive future economic activity.

Our people 

Although our offices at Camana Bay remain closed, most of our teams have adapted seamlessly to remote working. Our property management, commercial leasing and real estate sales teams continue to offer robust service to clients using virtual tools, and on the whole, the majority of our staff is well-positioned to continue working remotely under the current shelter-in-place regime.

We are also working closely with our tenants and business partners to understand their business needs during these challenging times.

For our hotel colleagues and others in the tourism industry, the immediate future is less clear. With our borders closed and travel restrictions in place around the world, Government thinks it unlikely that visitors will return much before the end of the year.

Late last month, Dart committed that employees at all our hotel properties should be paid for a period of 10 weeks, but it is now clear that tourism will be impacted for considerably longer and our hotels will remain closed for several months. Following Government advice, we are now working with our hotel partners to assist employees from overseas to return to their home countries if possible. While we have to be practical about the financial realities facing this sector until tourism returns, we can also look for innovative ways to redeploy some staff members where feasible.

Looking towards a safe and sustainable future  

Although there are tough times ahead, and COVID-19 remains a fluid situation, we have no doubt that the Cayman Islands will weather the storm, and like any storm, there will be silver linings.

Throughout history, pandemics have brought pain, but they have also marked new beginnings. We have a collective opportunity to rethink what matters, challenge the status quo and reimagine our future.

Balancing our social, economic and environmental needs, we can work together towards a sustainable future for the Cayman Islands.

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