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New Era in U.S. Virgin Islands: Hampton by Hilton Initiates Construction in St. Thomas After 30-year Hotel Hiatus

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HAVENSIGHT, ST. THOMAS — A milestone was marked on Friday afternoon as the first sod was turned for the upcoming Hampton by Hilton hotel, heralding the first new hotel project in the U.S. Virgin Islands in three decades. Located in the heart of Havensight, St. Thomas, the hotel is slated for a grand opening in the first quarter of 2025.

Local dignitaries and stakeholders gathered to commemorate the groundbreaking event, underscoring its potential to catalyze a fresh wave of hotel industry growth within the territory. The ceremony was graced by notable figures including Governor Albert Bryan, V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe, GERS CEO Angel Dawson, EDA CEO Wayne Biggs, and a host of Senate leaders.

With 126 rooms on offer, the Hampton by Hilton St. Thomas aims to cater primarily to the business demographic, providing a cost-effective stay option for transient professionals like pilots. Additionally, it is anticipated to stimulate local businesses in Havensight, especially eateries, as the hotel will provide only breakfast, fostering partnerships with nearby restaurants for other meal deliveries. An in-room tablet service will facilitate guests in ordering food or merchandise for either delivery or pick-up, and also enable pre-booking at local dining establishments.

The venture is spearheaded by Haven Developments in collaboration with Hilton. Pablo Maturana, Vice President of Development for the Caribbean and Latin America at Hilton Hotels and Resorts, expressed delight over the initiative, underscoring the significance of this project among over a hundred others presently underway. He extolled the reinstatement of the Hilton brand in the region, recognizing the warm reception from the St. Thomas community.

Haven Development Founder, Shaun Miller, articulated his enthusiasm about welcoming guests to the Hampton by Hilton come 2025, emphasizing the community-centric aspect of the project with an adjoining green space poised to enhance the allure of Havensight Mall.

The five-story establishment, sprawling over 70,586 square feet on a 1.62-acre plot, marks the return of the Hilton brand to the island, bringing along its reputable name and customer loyalty. The blueprint features a pool, bar, kitchen, and meeting space, while a neighboring 2.662-acre plot is earmarked for a welcome center, verdant area, and parking facility, as per a release from Haven Development.

Governor Bryan, reflecting on the significant venture, the first of its kind in 30 years, reiterated the ongoing growth narrative during his term. He referenced several other hotel projects, all reincarnation efforts, that are either operational or on the cusp of launching. His sentiments resonated with Mr. Dowe, the VIPA executive director, who emphasized the urgency of advancing such initiatives in the U.S. Virgin Islands, underscoring the collaborative ethos needed to surmount the inherent challenges.

Senator Francis joined the chorus of praise for the initiative, projecting new employment opportunities and economic augmentation as direct offshoots of the hotel project.

The land, owned by GERS, amplifies the pension system’s strategy to pursue partnerships enhancing its financial trajectory, as shared by CEO Mr. Dawson.

EDA CEO, Mr. Biggs, lauded Mr. Miller’s entrepreneurial endeavors within the EDA framework, singling out the award-winning Standard Aviation as a paragon of excellence.

Similarly, Senator Frett-Gregory celebrated Mr. Miller’s investment acumen and his unwavering faith in the USVI’s potential, encapsulating the collective appreciation and optimism resonating among the attendees.

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SBA Launches T.H.R.I.V.E. Training Program for Small Business Owners in 2024

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The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has unveiled the T.H.R.I.V.E. (Train, Hope, Rise, Innovate, Venture, Elevate) training program, set to begin in 2024. This initiative, evolving from the previous Emerging Leaders program, is tailored to bolster the expansion and longevity of small businesses throughout the United States, including those in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Starting on June 18 and concluding on December 10, 2024, T.H.R.I.V.E. offers a blend of online and in-person sessions. The curriculum is designed to enhance leadership skills, strategic financial management, market innovation, and the development of a vibrant company culture. Participants will engage in an interactive format, receiving guidance from experts and creating a comprehensive three-year strategic growth plan.

Isabel Casillas Guzman, the 27th Administrator of the SBA, stressed the importance of the program. “The T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined initiative arms budding small business leaders with the essential tools and knowledge, providing them access to top economic minds, which is crucial for competing in the global market,” she noted.

To qualify, businesses must have been operational for at least three years, generate minimum annual revenues of $250,000, employ at least one person besides the owner, and the owner must participate throughout the six-month program duration.

Josué E. Rivera, SBA’s district director for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, emphasized the training’s collaborative approach. “Our innovative cohort model not only fosters a network of support but also connects participants with leading figures in the industry and government. This approach is instrumental in cultivating business growth and sustainable practices,” Rivera said.

Wayne Huddleston, SBA senior area manager for the U.S. Virgin Islands, highlighted the program’s local impact. “For small business owners in the U.S. Virgin Islands, this program offers crucial tools and knowledge to help them diversify their revenue streams and expand their operations. I urge interested entrepreneurs to apply before the April 28 deadline, as space is limited,” he urged.

Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Virgin Islands interested in the 2024 T.H.R.I.V.E. cohort can obtain more information and apply by visiting the SBA’s official website or by contacting the SBA’s St. Croix office at 340-473-7945. Applications are open until April 28, 2024.

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Leadership Transition at RTPark as CEO Peter Chapman Announces Departure

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The Research and Technology Park (RTPark) is set for a new chapter in leadership as CEO Peter H. Chapman has announced he will be stepping down after a dynamic and impactful six years at the helm. Chapman, credited with steering RTPark through a period marked by strategic innovations and robust growth, will see his contract conclude without renewal. His future endeavors will concentrate on his venture, Urban Policy Innovations (UPI), an economic development and real estate advisory firm, as revealed in a recent RTPark press release.

Chapman’s era at RTPark is distinguished by remarkable financial achievements and the enhancement of the community’s socio-economic landscape in the Virgin Islands. Under his guidance, RTPark was distinguished with the 2020 Economic Development Organization of the Year award by the International Economic Development Council. The park’s business portfolio witnessed a substantial 275% growth, while its revenues soared by over 300%, obliterating a $4 million debt accumulated before Chapman’s leadership in 2018. Notably, RTPark’s support for the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) saw a dramatic increase, contributing $3 million in 2023—a more than 300% rise since 2018, cumulating to approximately $14 million in support since RTPark’s inception.

Reflecting on his tenure, Chapman expressed his dedication to the economic diversification efforts of the RTPark and the broader Virgin Islands community. “Leading the RTPark has been a privilege, and I am thankful for the trust and opportunity granted by the RTPark Board of Directors and the organization’s visionary founders,” he remarked.

Chapman attributed the success of RTPark to a vigorous economic development strategy that propelled tech sector growth and diversified revenue streams. This approach included enticing new enterprises, nurturing startups, developing the workforce, facilitating access to capital, and enhancing infrastructure. He also acknowledged the crucial role of RTPark-affiliated companies in fueling the organization’s expansion and its significant investments in UVI.

As Chapman prepares for his departure, he remains devoted to a smooth transition and the continued prosperity of RTPark’s projects. He hinted at his potential involvement in special economic development projects within the Virgin Islands post-RTPark, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to serve and his anticipation for RTPark’s future trajectory.

“The collective achievements during my tenure are a reflection of the collaborative effort and commitment of our team, partners, and the community. I am proud of our accomplishments and eager to witness RTPark’s ongoing success,” Chapman concluded.

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Launch of GERS Personal Loan Program: A New Opportunity for Government Employees

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The Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS) has officially announced the opening for expressions of interest in its newly relaunched personal loan program, sparking excitement among its members. Following a resolution in January by the GERS Board of Trustees, $20 million has been earmarked to fuel this initiative, aimed at providing financial assistance to its members. This revival splits the allocated funds equally between the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John administrative districts.

Eligibility for this financial opportunity is extended to active members who have contributed for a minimum of two years. They can apply for loans up to $10,000, repayable over a span of five years or before the borrower reaches the age of 70, at an interest rate of 8%.

Members interested in availing themselves of this opportunity are encouraged to express their interest through an online loan interest form or by personally visiting GERS offices. The deadline for submission is set for April 18, before noon. An application fee of $50 is required as part of the process, as stated by the agency.

Following the initial expression of interest, the pre-qualification stage will commence. Successful candidates will then be notified to arrange interview appointments, proceeding in the sequence in which their expressions of interest were received. This structured approach ensures a transparent and orderly process, allowing members to step closer to financial empowerment through the GERS personal loan program.

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