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RTPark’s Growth and Progress; Legislature Positive Following Budget Review

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The RTPark, having spanned over two decades, stands as a testament to the region’s economic prowess. This was the sentiment shared by its CEO, Peter Chapman, during his presentation to the 35th Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee last week.

Interestingly, while RTPark doesn’t directly appeal to the Legislature for yearly funding, Mr. Chapman leveraged the session to provide insights into its journey. He mentioned an impressive surge of $250 million in revenue since 2017 and proudly announced the elimination of a previously held $4 million debt. Moreover, the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) is set to benefit significantly from RTPark’s prosperity, anticipating a support sum exceeding $2.7 million this year. The thriving success is credited to RTPark’s revamped approach to economic development, as highlighted by Chapman. This claim is further backed by the organization’s accolade from the International Economic Development Council, recognizing it as a leader in its field.

Senator Novelle Francis sought clarification on RTPark’s contributions to UVI. In response, Mr. Chapman conveyed the delicate balance required to distribute funds effectively for both entrepreneurial support and the university’s welfare. He reiterated the importance of sustaining UVI without compromising on other essential needs.

In a promising turn of events, RTPark has been drawing attention from well-established firms. Companies such as FarmShelf and M1 Enterprises were mentioned as being indicative of RTPark’s sharpened focus on quality over sheer numbers. Chapman also spotlighted pivotal initiatives like the Accelerate VI program and the USVI Idea Incubator, attributing them to revenue and capital expansion.

Speaking on entrepreneurial financing, Chapman introduced the Catalyst Fund. A fund designed to propel larger businesses and developmental projects. Currently, with “$3.1 million allocated,” the fund is expected to witness a surge in applications. He underscored the indispensable role of such funds, citing the scarcity of viable, affordable capital options for local enterprises eager to expand.

However, a question arose from Senator Marvin Blyden regarding the fund’s marketing efficacy, given the limited number of applicants. Mr. Chapman responded by contextualizing the Catalyst Fund’s size in the global investment arena and assured Senator Blyden of an enhanced marketing strategy upon securing a more substantial capital base.

Charting RTPark’s future trajectory, Chapman alluded to collaborative projects with the Legislature, such as introducing rideshare services. He also introduced the ambitious Tech Village venture – a multi-faceted initiative aimed at creating around 300 jobs in St. Croix. However, unforeseen challenges like global supply chain disruptions have driven up costs. Chapman also mentioned the VI Housing Finance Authority’s recent proposal to include more affordable housing units within the Tech Village, necessitating an additional $29 million in funding.

In parallel, RTPark has launched talent development campaigns, including the Virgin Islands STEM Talent Archive Program (VISTA+), and the “#ComeHomeUSVI” drive, targeting the repatriation of skilled Virgin Islanders.

A significant highlight was the partnership with acclaimed actor-producer, Tim Reid. The joint venture is poised to extend Reid’s streaming platform, Legacy TV (LGC), into the Virgin Islands. Furthermore, an upcoming production facility in St. Croix and an innovation hub in downtown Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, are in the pipeline.

In fostering a new generation of tech aficionados, RTPark initiated STEM-based programs for young students. The recent VI STEM Kids program, as shared by Chapman, engaged over 200 students in a diverse range of scientific disciplines.

Concluding his discourse, Chapman emphasized RTPark’s commitment to foster skills in defense technologies, sustainable practices, and health informatics, alongside a new focus on philanthropic fundraising.

The session ended on an optimistic note, with legislators commending RTPark’s commendable progress and eagerly awaiting future breakthroughs in technology and entrepreneurship.

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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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