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The saying "Every little bit helps" can sometimes ring false when more comprehensive plans for empowering disadvantaged groups of people offer better long-term solutions that scattered donations.
Such is the sentiment behind the Lignum Vitae Center of Hope (LVCH), a nonprofit agency for positive social change in the community through their initiatives for collaboration and education. In order to rally support for the many programs they have their hands in, they will hold a night of beautiful classical music, Strings and Stars on the Harbour.
Featuring gorgeous selections from world renowned classical guitarist Julian Byzantine as well as Adrian D'Aguilar, Kim Welcome and Naomi Taylor, among others, the informal and light-hearted event will be held February 4 at 7:00 p.m. at the stately Lee Shore on the East Bay Street Foreshore.
Strings and Stars on the Harbour will also feature the culinary delights of Citrus Catering and chocolate tasting by "Cocoa Plums" of Freeport.
All proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the Lignum Vitae Center of Hope so they can continue to help others to help themselves by promoting self-sufficiency and sustainability.
Started in 2010 by 14 founders who had extensive backgrounds in charitable work, LVCH grew out of this sentiment after several of its founders realized a more comprehensive approach was needed in charitable gestures in order to ensure long-term solutions.
"We realized we could always keep handing out but we were enabling people," says Sheila Prichard, a director of LVCH. "We weren't achieving anything and motivating change. So two years ago we thought we needed to come together and find strength in numbers."
"We were perpetuating the problem by enabling them," adds another director, Anne Lever. "Now the whole focus is not giving hand-outs but rather hand-ups."
After spending time on the ground in communities that needed assistance, what many of the center's founding members discovered was not the need for more organizations and nonprofits to help out - indeed, many of them existed for the same causes - but the need to bring them all together in the name of community improvement.
To that end, one of the major projects by LVCH is BahamaVOICE, a directory of charitable organizations in order to promote collaboration and sharing of resources and information. It is only through bringing these groups together through their similar causes, explain the directors, that long-term and significant change can come about.
"What we're hoping to do through our supplement is to bridge these gaps by holding workshops and directing groups to one another who have similar causes," explains Lever. "So instead of us helping a few individuals, we can help groups that help lots of people. We thought we'd inspire or assist what's already there."
In a similar vein, their 4H program brings those together who share the interest of youth development in order to train them in leading workshops and classes to empower young people in the community. This program - which address the four aspects of development: Head, Heart, Hands and Health - has already shown success in various urban renewal centers around New Providence.
"It's all about teaching skills to young people to make good decisions and to be leaders," says Prichard. "But it's not about telling anyone what to do and how to do it."
Indeed the 4H program allows its members to make major decisions for the group such as electing group leaders - among other exercises - in order to provide educational experiences that form positive attitudes and values - something which they may not get anywhere else.
"The parents and grandparents aren't there at home because they're out working and come home exhausted," says Prichard. "The quality time to help children understand the rules of life and the rules of being part of a community; a lot of that isn't happening anymore. So this program teaches them empowerment and responsibility and possibility."
These are only two programs in a slew of already implemented and planned initiatives by the Lignum Vitae Center of Hope to promote positive social change in Bahamian communities - and they have a long way to go. Yet they believes with help by the community, they can get there, and one way to help is by attending their event Strings and Stars on the Harbour.
"We want it to be an enjoyable evening with a focus on something a little different," says Lever. "To date we have gotten ourselves to where we are through the kindness and assistance by the community. We want to invite people to come on the journey with us for positive social change."
By contributing to the event in their ticket sales, guests can be confident that their donations are not only going to one cause, but are in fact through LVCH reaching many other nonprofit organizations for more substantial and sustainable social changes in the community.
"We're all for doing things differently," says Prichard. "We want to give young people opportunities in this country so we see the potential in partnering with social entrepreneurs in the community. If this country is going to move forward successfully, we need to help young people change."
Tickets for Strings and Stars on the Harbour are $100 and are available at Custom Computers locations in Harbour Bay and Cable Beach or by calling 676-9240, 393-2046 or 324-0690. For more information about the Lignum Vitae Center of Hope, find them at Lignum Vitae Bahamas on Facebook or www.LignumVitaeBahamas.org.
Peter Dupuch is the president of ERA. Buying and selling property for more than 20 years, he is a former director of the Bahamas Real Estate Association and holds the elite distinction of Certified International Property Specialist. Peter is also a commercial pilot and once worked for Bahamasair.
Guardian Business: What is the biggest challenge facing your business or sector? What measures need to be taken in The Bahamas to solve it?
Peter: The two biggest challenges that I have in my business:
1. Maintaining and managing our website and keeping it competitive in the search engines. It's a never-ending effort. I told somebody the other day, "I remember when I used to sell real estate. Now I do websites."
2. The increased government stamp tax. It's prohibitive to investment and commerce and it's unfair to the lowest income sector. Their stamp tax was doubled from 2 percent to 4 percent overnight for property under $25,000. Facts show that it's stifling the real estate market. Moreover, property tax rates are astronomical and modes of valuation seem random and antiquated.
We should be trying to stimulate a lagging economy (especially in the Family Islands) by facilitating the purchase of residential single-family properties. Instead we double the tax rates of those who can least afford it.
GB: How has your business or sector changed since the financial crisis?
Peter: The real estate business was one of the hardest hit by the financial crisis worldwide, but luckily we weren't hit as hard as our colleagues in other parts of the globe. Because our banks lent money more conservatively than abroad, we didn't have a complete real estate collapse. But we suffered because the foreign markets suffered, especially the U.S. market. But I feel blessed. My business has remained strong throughout the years.
GB: Can you describe a life experience that changed how you approach your work today?
Peter: Learning to fly 31 years ago changed my life forever. As a kid I dreamed of flying, but was scared to death of getting in a plane. On my first introductory flight in a little sardine can with wings, I was so scared. I reconciled with myself that I was going to die and I just accepted it. I've never looked back since that day.
I went from a first time pilot to a commercial pilot in seven months and eventually was hired by Bahamasair and flew their B737s. I still fly today and feel as comfortable in a plane as I do on my couch.
Flying has taught me to take calculated risks, set goals, to not be distracted by things I can't control, but to be competent and knowledgeable about the things I can control. It's taught me to concentrate, to prioritize and to take life head on. Learning to fly gave me the confidence to do anything I put my mind to.
GB: What are you currently reading?
Peter: I read a lot. Right now I'm just finishing "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. I read more fiction than non-fiction. But, I like non-fiction that relates to business. One such books I read recently was "Steve Jobs", the biography. He was driven! Was he a good boss? I wouldn't have wanted to work for him. But he was the most successful businessman in history - and against immeasurable odds. He was confident, competent and knew everything about his industry.
GB: Has the high cost of energy hurt your business? What solutions have you initiated or considered to combat it?
Peter: No, the high cost of energy hasn't hurt my business as much as other factors. Luckily we are a small footprint and don't burn a lot of energy. But I'm an impulsive light extinguisher. I'm famous for plunging our lunch room into darkness not realizing that people are eating in there.
GB: What makes a great boss? What makes a bad boss?
Peter: A good boss listens. I am guilty of being hard headed when I feel sure about something, but a good boss cares about his employees and tries to make the workplace a fun, fair, and happy environment. Most of my workmates went to school with me and we are lifelong friends. We're a team. Like family. We talk openly; we argue passionately. We have fun. But we work hard. We work together and we look out for each other. Our weekly sales meetings are loud and emotional but we're always laughing. I'm not saying I'm a good boss, but my team stands beside me.
GB: If you could change one thing concerning business in The Bahamas, what would it be?
Peter: I've never done business anywhere else so I don't have anything to compare it to. But, in my sector, I'd like to see better access to complete and accurate public and historical records through online computerization. Business license, drivers license, property tax records and payments, maps, plot plans, chain of title, national insurance etc. should all be available online. I want to be able to see everything from my desk without having to drive anywhere in my car. To research something in The Bahamas takes a team of people running all over the place sifting through volumes of paper records at multiple government departments. People want information "at the speed of light", as Bill Gates says, but we're still writing out car licenses by hand. Thousands of man-hours wasted standing in line.
GB: What keeps you grounded?
Peter: My wife. Who else? And my children, who are three, five and seven. I feel I have a responsibility to protect them and provide them with the best I can give. That's not easy in the world today. It's a very daunting task. But it keeps me grounded. I need things to keep me grounded though.
GB: Do you have any major interests other than work?
Peter: I love playing music on the piano and guitar. I've recently been teaching myself the drums and bass but I'm not there yet. I don't read music well and that's another of my goals but I'm impatient and always throw the book down and just play from my head. I also enjoy tennis, flying and boating.
GB: What should young businesses keep in mind in this current economic climate to survive?
Peter: Cut unnecessary costs and spend money wisely. Save for the rainy day and be prudent at any outlay of cash. I always ask myself - If we spend this dollar, what will we get back for it and when will we get it back? If I can't answer that question, then I don't spend it.
I probably get 50 emails and requests per day from people trying to sell me something that I don't need. It becomes overwhelming. So you have to pick and choose and be wise in your decisions when it comes to capital outlay.
GB: How would you describe or classify the ease of doing business in The Bahamas?
Peter: Well, I am a Bahamian and I'm used to doing business here. I've lived here all my life. I love it because I know everybody and everybody knows me. In larger countries, you're just a number - another salmon trying to swim upstream. We have our challenges with inefficiency and red tape in The Bahamas but I feel we have more personal and lasting relationships between colleagues. I like walking into a business where I know the owner or manager or employee. We have big city problems here in Nassau but there is still a certain small town feel to doing business. I like that a lot.
Custom Computers A's for Excellence Continues to make a Difference in Improving Education in The Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas - Continuing in its tradition of
rewarding excellence in education, Custom Computers teamed up this year with The Hewlett-Packard Company to
present brand new computers to the winners of its Fourth Annual A's For
Excellence Awards Competition on Saturday, September 3rd, at its
Cable Beach Location. The promotion which started earlier this year, allowed
students throughout the Bahamas who received at least one 'A' grade on their
final report card, a chance to win the prizes donated by HP.
On hand for the presentation this
year were the Minister of Education, the Honourable Desmond Bannister, and Mr.
Polo Sanchez, Sales Manager for Hewlett-Packard...
The alarm over aragonite is reaching a fever pitch.
A coalition of pastors, union leaders and civil society activists has been making the rounds on talk shows, demanding that the government negotiate higher royalties for aragonite, a unique mineral with a wide range of uses.
At a press conference in Rawson Square last Tuesday, National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas President John Pinder estimated that the government could pocket as much as $300 million per month, or $4.2 billion a year, if it renegotiated the royalties to no less than $350 per metric ton.
The government currently receives $2 per metric ton on aragonite exported from Ocean Cay, just south of Bimini.
The figures quoted by Pinder are significant amounts.
The coalition also says in its fact sheet being circulated that the Bahamian aragonite operation has the potential to be a multi-trillion-dollar industry.
President of Sandy Cay Development Co. Limited Tony Myers, whose company has a 25-year lease from the Bahamas government, said they are selling on average at $12 per metric ton -- far from the $900 figure we keep hearing from the coalition.
At the press conference last week, Pinder was supported by Dwight Smith, chairman of the Police Staff Association; Gregory Archer, president of the Prison Staff Association; members of the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition, and other activists who claim the royalty portion of the agreement between Sandy Cay and the government is up for renewal next month.
We asked Pinder on Friday where the numbers he quoted came from.
While Pinder was the spokesman at the press conference, he told us he did not personally do the research and advised us to speak to Wesley Campbell, who he said is the researcher for the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition.
But a seemingly irritated Campbell refused to speak to National Review yesterday.
He angrily accused us of "deceiving" the coalition's chairman, Rev. Andrew Stewart, by failing to provide him with a copy of the lease between Sandy Cay and the government.
Campbell said the failure of National Review to turn over the lease to the coalition was deceptive because the coalition had previously provided National Review with information as part of its probe into the aragonite issue.
While Campbell refused to speak to us, Stewart did so on Friday night.
We questioned him about the information his group has put into the public domain.
Stewart said the coalition has a research team that has done a lot of work.
We asked him about the coalition's claim in a fact sheet that the lease between Sandy Cay and the government of The Bahamas is "renewable every two years" and was granted by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government.
He insisted this was a fact.
When informed by National Review that the lease was signed under the Ingraham administration and does not speak to renewal every two years, Stewart said this statement by the coalition had been based on an "assumption".
We found this admission simply unbelievable.
Asked whether the coalition leaders have read the lease, Stewart admitted that they had not and asked National Review if he could have a copy.
We then committed to asking our source whether this would be possible.
We believe the coalition was confused by a letter written by Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister David Davis on June 3, 2010 to H. Campbell Cleare III, the attorney for Sandy Cay.
In that letter, Davis advised Sandy Cay that it could recommence its aragonite operation while a new lease was negotiated. Sandy Cay bought the old lease in 2009 from AES Corporation, which operated at Ocean Cay and unsuccessfully sought to get approval from the Bahamas government for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) operation.
The government signed a 25-year lease with Sandy Cay on April 20, 2012.
The lease signed with Sandy Cay provides for "a royalty computed as B$2 per ton for demised mineral exported from The Bahamas encompassing the first five years of the lease, after which the royalty shall be computed as 10 percent of the sales price, with a minimum fee of B$2 per ton up to a maximum fee of B$12 per ton for demised mineral exported from The Bahamas".
The lease was backdated to June 3, 2010 when negotiations began.
After admitting that the coalition is agitating even though it has not read the lease, Stewart said the fact that the lease is not up for renewal adds strength to the coalition's argument.
"It's unthinkable to us that the lease would have been a mere blanket 25-year lease and after over 40 years having been renewed by successive governments periodically, for the government to just give them a 25-year blanket," said Stewart, who also could not prove that the government previously agreed to leases renewable every three years.
The government's former lease for Ocean Cay had no such provision either.
"What our assumption was, not seeing as you have seen the 2012 lease, having only had in our possession the 2010 lease, we assumed that it was renewed somewhere around the anniversary of the 2010 year lease," Stewart explained.
But again, there was no 2010 lease, just a letter written by the government to Sandy Cay allowing the operation to resume while the negotiations for a new lease took place.
Stewart told National Review, "We stand corrected that it is the FNM government and that it is not this government" that negotiated the lease.
He added, "Having discovered that now and having that verified it's a far more horrendous position that the Bahamian people find themselves in than we had ever imagined. Our research department just gave the daily cost on the world market."
Myers, the Sandy Cay president, provided an invoice showing that one of his latest shipments had a cost of $12.50 per metric ton.
Asked whether the coalition has taken into consideration that aragonite has significant add-on value after it is processed by U.S. companies that buy from Ocean Cay, Stewart said, "We recognize that there are layers of costs and pricing, but world market price first cost, our research department has discovered that $900 is a figure."
After further questions from National Review, Stewart also admitted that the coalition never reached out to Sandy Cay to ask questions on what the company is doing or how much it sells aragonite for.
Incredibly, he also admitted that the coalition has not had conversations with the government over a matter it has been making so many demands about.
After it was explained to him that the lease is not up for renewal, Stewart said the government could still act in the interest of the Bahamian people.
"We feel that the government is the influential bargaining agent that can influence or with the stroke of a pen change these arrangements," said Stewart, insisting the coalition has "professional research".
He added, "The Bahamian aragonite is the most sought after aragonite in the world because it is of the highest quality."
Further explaining why the coalition has acted without reading the current lease for aragonite harvesting that exists, Stewart said, "The whole issue with regard to our natural resources has been a private issue in the Office of the Prime Minister.
"Facts are not easy to come by, and for us to have gotten this far, I think we have done a yeoman's job. And in fact, one must remember that we are operating without the Freedom of Information Act.
"Once we have that it wouldn't be like pulling teeth. And so, we have come this far by faith and we trudge on ahead in seeking to inform the Bahamian people."
We agree with Stewart on the need for the long-discussed Freedom of Information Act.
While we see wisdom in discussing the aragonite issue and whether the Bahamian people are getting what they deserve, we abhor discussions fuelled by misinformation, incomplete information and emotions.
This is counter productive to what those leading the cause might be seeking to achieve, and it may create disharmony.
The so-called facts being put in the public domain are fuelling hysteria and a great deal of confusion.
The coalition should be embarrassed that it is making claims in the absence of all the facts.
It is riling the emotions of the public although it has not read the aragonite lease.
It is speaking -- by the admission of its chairman -- based on an "assumption".
This is highly irresponsible.
It has not spoken to the principal of the company harvesting aragonite.
It has not had discussions with the government on this matter.
Union President John Pinder trusted the "research" of the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition.
Pinder said revenue from increased aragonite royalties could be used to pay every Bahamian at least $50,000 within 18 months of adjusting the terms.
He said this could significantly drive down crime and bring prosperity for all Bahamians.
Pinder aligned his good name with what the coalition presented to him, and did so with the backing of both the police and prison staff associations.
We wonder if the coalition knows how easy it is to access the lease it has not seen.
We respectfully urge our fellow citizens to be careful how they accept information without doing their own research.
We have reported the results of our initial research into this matter.
We do not take the side of Sandy Cay, but it is important to give it a voice in this national debate and that is why we contacted its principal, Tony Myers.
It is why we asked him to allow us to see his company's invoices.
Last week, Minister of Environment Kenred Dorsett said successive governments have "not been aggressive" enough when negotiating royalties for aragonite.
He also said the former administration signed off on an aragonite royalty of $2 per metric ton, even though it initially wanted a figure of between $12 and $15.
The minister also suggested the deal is being reviewed.
"We are looking at those issues to make sure the people get what they are entitled to in terms of their fair share of the revenue associated with extracting those natural resources."
Dorsett advised that a Cabinet sub-committee was formed a few months ago to address this matter.
It is clear that the government should play a stronger role in bringing a more temperate approach to this debate.
We make no statement on whether the government is getting fair royalties.
If in fact there is a review taking place, we hope, and we assume that the government is making use of its scientific and technical experts to drive the process.
Clearly, there is also a need for public education on this matter.
The government should make a full and clear statement, as opposed to ambiguous statements not thoroughly considered.
In driving this discussion, all involved should do so responsibly -- the government, the media and civil society.
This matter has reached a point where the spread of misinformation has had a huge impact on many people now demanding the government renegotiate royalties.
In a democracy, agitation is good.
But in the absence of facts, it could be dangerous.
Its outcome can only be positive if it is done responsibly.
The oldest florist in the country is growing.
The Nassau Florist and its division JW/Events are shifting over to the historical Villa Flora building on Dowdeswell Street and Victoria Avenue, boosting its space by more than 2,000 square feet. The move, expected to occur on April 1, is an essential component of its overall expansion plans.
Al Collie, the general manager of Nassau Florist, said the business has boosted its staff complement to 14 in recent months.
The 60-year-old business is looking to hire up to five more Bahamians this year.
"Right now, 80 percent of our business is typically flower sales. The other 20 percent is events," Collie explained. "That is a picture we want to change. In the short term, we want 50 percent of our business to be events."
The Nassau Florist considers its move to Villa Flora "pivotal" to this business plan.
While the business might be largest in The Bahamas in terms of sales volume, special events, such as weddings, remains a relatively modest segment.
Collie said that The Nassau Florist hired a director of sales and marketing in Florida to specifically chase destination weddings and events around the world. Working with the hotels, such as Baha Mar, will be central to these plans, he said.
Noting that Villa Flora is "night and day" compared to the old location, Collie described the historical building as being more than 100 years old and offering 6,000 square feet of space.
"I am very pleased to finally announced that we will be moving to Villa Flora," said Jim Whitehead, the owner. "Many will know the location as the former Gaylord's restaurant on Dowedswell Street at Victoria Avenue in downtown Nassau."
In November, Whitehead announced the decision to sell the current location and move, insisting that the business had outgrown its space on Shirley Street.
Whitehead said that the building was renovated 10 years ago and featured energy efficient amenities, security, computer networking technology, offices, storage space and a conference room. It also has parking available on the property and across the street.
Collie told Guardian Business that the move and expansion is all the more impressive given the tough times facing florists. Like many other industries, the high cost of business has taken its toll.
The industry spends around 50 percent duty on the importation of flowers and other products.
The Nassau Florist is planning an official grand opening on Mother's Day, although it will be opening its doors right after its move to the new location on April 1.
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A Taste Of The Bahamas
at a glance
Focus on Fashion
As a host of retail shops and restaurants sign the dotted line, the 21.5-acre commercial development in western New Providence is expected to generate close to 400 jobs when completed.
The multimillion-dollar Old Fort Bay Town Centre project has now entered the second phase of construction. According to Jane-Michele Bethel, sales and marketing manager at New Providence Development Company Limited (NPDC), all tenants will start interior buildings by the end of September, if not before.
An interior design store, spa, nutritional beverage company and a veterinarian have made commitments, while a sports store, computer shop and two boutiques have reserved spaces.
This second phase already joins an already extensive list of shops now taking up tenancy in phase one.
Bethel provided Guardian Business with no less than 10 establishments either open or in the process of outfitting their stories. Included in the list is the first restaurant at Old Fort Bay Town Centre - Sushi ROKKAN.
"Sushi ROKKAN will have a modern Japanese interior design, approximately 60 seats, including a comfortable sushi bar and outside patio seating. They will serve traditional sushi, sashimi, appetizers, charbroiled grilled meats (Japanese style) and seasonal signature dishes. All to be enjoyed with a huge sake selection," she noted.
The second restaurant to be included in the project's first phase has committed to signing a lease soon, with a planned opening date of November or December. A third restaurant has yet to be selected. Royal Bank of Canada also broke ground on their pad to the west of the Old Fort Bay Town Centre roundabout last week. Its anticipated opening date is set for Spring 2013.
In phase two, Bethel said stores will have 60 days to complete their build-outs, and restaurants have 90 days. As for phase one, Bahamas Design Centre, featuring indoor/outdoor furniture and home accessories, and The Gallery at Old Fort, are both set to open next month. HIS Fashion, stocking brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Nautica and Kenneth Cole of New York, has proposed a September opening date. The Keg Ranch liquor store and Going Places Travel are working on a similar timeline.
Sat Sound and Benetton are two retail spaces that are already open. Your Friendly Pharmacy is set open its doors at a later date.
The entire project, comprising seven one-acre pads, two anchor stores, and just under 60,000 square feet of retail and office commercial space, is expected to employ between 375 and 400 people.
"The degree of investment from the business community is of a very high caliber and we expect to see some spectacularly well designed stores, and a good variety and complementary mix of products and services," Bethel added.
The Coalition of Concerned Citizens continues it declare the message that the high cost of electricity must come down to an affordable level across Grand Bahama...
Micronet, a New Providence-based regional technology leader, marks its 30th anniversary this month, celebrating with a reception for long-standing clients and the official unveiling of its new 11,500 plus square foot super store and service facility.
The company that has grown exponentially over the decades is a quiet success story that parallels the growth of the fast-changing technology industry it serves.
Three decades ago, it opened with two full-time employees in a small space in the Out Island Traders Building off Mackey Street. Back then, storage capacity was measured in kilobytes (KB); a computer with 160KB was cutting edge, and word processing was done on typewriters.
Now, Micronet occupies two buildings, boasts nearly three dozen staff and asserts that its multilevel retail superstore rivals top-of-the-line competitors anywhere.
"We all take for granted the wonderful technology we enjoy today like the Apple iPad or the HP Ultrabook, technology that was unheard of 30 years ago," said Stephen Cartwright, tech co-founder and current CEO of Micronet.
"But that technology changes so fast that unlike in many businesses, where you have the luxury of reviewing new products every season, in our business you can go to sleep at night and when you wake in the morning, there's something new on the market that makes yesterday's hottest device feel as outdated as the rotary dial phone. You either keep up or you get left behind, and at the same time, you also have to remain focused on consistent customer service."
Cartwright's all-Bahamian staff of 35 include industry-certified technicians. "We are very proud of our new facilities, but more importantly, we are extremely proud of our dedicated staff, including our 15 certified technicians," said Gregory Pinder, general manager of Micronet. Not being afraid to grow and to invest in training has allowed Micronet to emerge as the only authorized Apple service provider in The Bahamas. It is also among the regional leaders in technology sales and service for Toshiba, HP, Apple, Lenovo and Microsoft.
"Creating a true technology superstore has been our goal and we are excited about this major expansion that allows us to serve clients in a way that we have always envisioned," said Micronet Marketing Manager Adriano Baldacci.
"As for the store itself, we wanted it to reflect modern style that blends futuristic with professional in design but would facilitate personal interaction and comfort. Successful Apple stores have a lively, upbeat feeling with a clean look and that's what we were after right here in Palmdale in the heart of Nassau. We wanted people to feel comfortable trying before they decided to buy. Our full line of laptops, iPads, Mac books and desktops are out on display for customers to come in and test out."
This expansion is "powerful for businesses", Baldacci said.
"We're a one stop shop for technology for everyone from the individual to the country's largest company or institution."
President of Sandy Cay Development Co. Limited Tony Myers told National Review that claims the company is making substantial sums of money from its aragonite operation at Ocean Cay are not true.
The Bahamas National Citizens Coalition, National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas President John Pinder and others have claimed that aragonite is selling for $900 per metric ton on the open market, but the government is only getting $2 per metric ton.
After he was contacted by National Review, Myers, a Bahamian businessman, said the unprocessed aragonite being shipped from Ocean Cay is being sold on average for $12 to $20 per metric ton.
We requested that he show us invoices to prove his statement.
Myers was off island when we made the invoice request this weekend. He electronically provided one invoice that shows a recent sale for $12.50 per metric ton and committed to providing us with additional invoices to show the company's prices.
He also told us the company has only had 16 export shipments since it started aragonite harvesting in 2010. He also provided National Review with documentation on those 16 shipments.
According to the documents provided to us, Sandy Cay has shipped 106,855.69 metric tons of aragonite since 2010 to various companies.
The government of The Bahamas has received $213,000 in royalties.
We admit our surprise that the shipment amount seemed so low.
Myers estimated that the resale cost of aragonite -- after his company sells to U.S. companies and they complete the refining process -- increases to around $75 per metric ton for the glass market and up to $400 per metric ton for the plastics market.
But he explained, "It takes a huge amount of labor, specialty equipment and electricity cost to take this mineral down to a size of three microns -- a very, very small particle size, basically the size of smoke.
"It is combined or coated with a chemical called stearic acid, and then it's moved into a compounding facility where it's combined with plastic resin, so there's a lot of costs that are added to it.
"So when you say oh, you're selling it for $900 a ton, or even if you were to realistically say you're selling it for $400 a ton, well, there's a tremendous amount of cost or value added that has been built into the material cost from when it's left the ocean at Ocean Cay to the time it actually meets that market."
The aragonite does not attract the estimated $400 per metric ton sale price at Ocean Cay because it is not refined there, he said.
We were also stunned to hear Myers say the company has not yet made a profit from the operation and pressed him repeatedly on why it has stayed in business.
Myers said Sandy Cay is now poised to make money from the operation, although competition for calcium carbonate is great.
We start with those statements in the context of all that is being said nationally now about aragonite and what we as Bahamians could earn from it.
Across The Bahamas, there is growing hysteria over aragonite, a naturally occurring unique carbonate mineral found in abundance in our ocean.
Commonly, it is known as sand and has widespread uses in various industries, including aggregate, agriculture, glass, power plant desulfurization, plastics, food, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
We are told by a citizens coalition of union leaders, pastors and civic activists that Bahamians are being raped by developers mining our precious natural resources -- and that successive governments have signed sweetheart deals with investors ruthlessly scarring our environment to our detriment.
Those driving the discussion -- the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition and John Pinder -- tell us that, "From 1964 this outrageous exploitation of our resources has continually taken place with minimal benefits to The Bahamian people and exorbitant benefits to private citizens."
We are also told that if the government of The Bahamas negotiated the royalties we deserve, the government could pocket as much as $300 million per month. This renegotiation could wipe out our national debt, make us all prosperous and drive down our social woes, they tell us.
We have also heard that in 18 months, every Bahamian could have at least $50,000 in their bank accounts, if only the government would act in the interest of its citizens and do the right thing.
The voices of the union leaders and the other activists have been getting louder, as have the voices of many people calling into local talk shows and demanding the government take action to stop this "criminal act" against its people.
In all of this, we have barely heard the voices of our leaders in government and we have not heard the voices of those harvesting aragonite.
The debate has largely been driven by emotions.
So we set about getting the facts. In so doing, we approached the matter without any prejudice.
What struck us in our initial probe is that the Bahamas National Citizens Coalition, John Pinder, and others driving the hysteria are largely misinformed.
Admittedly, this is a complex matter and we ourselves still have a great deal of research to do. But from our initial digging, we have started to sort through the confusion and seek to provide a more reasoned, fact-based approach to the aragonite discussion.
The first thing we did was contact Sandy Cay Development Company Ltd., the company producing aragonite sand in the crystalline form "oolitic aragonite" at Ocean Cay, south of Bimini.
Our phone call was answered and Sandy Cay President Tony Myers agreed to a meeting with National Review to share with us what is taking place at Ocean Cay and provide us access to important figures on pricing and production.
We also read Sandy Cay's lease with the government of The Bahamas and discovered that some of the claims being made by the coalition are not true.
Despite the coalition's statement of "fact" that the royalties negotiated by the government is renewable every two years, we have seen nothing in the 25-year lease to suggest this.
So, despite all that we have been hearing, there is nothing coming up for renewal in June, or anytime soon.
Coalition Chairman Rev. Andrew Stewart admitted to National Review when we contacted him on Friday that the coalition has not seen the lease, has not contacted the investor, and based that statement of "fact" on what he called "an assumption".
This stunning admission casts doubt on everything we have heard so far from the coalition driving this debate.
This is not to say that the government should not step into this debate, provide clarification and lay out the facts for Bahamians dispassionately.
Ocean Cay, the 95-acre site of the country's only aragonite operation, is located nine miles south of Cat Cay, 27 miles south of Bimini and 65 miles east of Miami.
The cay was originally around 30 acres and built in the 1970s.
A popular Sports Illustrated article from 1970 that is currently making the rounds on social media said the Dillingham Corporation had "exclusive rights in four Bahamian areas totaling 8,235 square miles".
"In these areas there are about four billion cubic yards -- roughly 7.5 billion long tons -- of aragonite.
"At rock-bottom price the whole deposit is worth more than $15 billion. An experienced dredging company like Dillingham should be able to suck up 10 million tons a year, which will net the Bahamian government an annual royalty of about $600,000."
It said, "On the basis of such big, round figures, the mining of aragonite seems to be a bonanza operation. In reality, it is still a doubtful venture for both Dillingham and The Bahamas."
In 1984, Marcona Ocean Industries bought the operation and held it until 2000.
On March 27, 1992, then Minister of Works and Lands Philip Bethel signed a 21-year lease with Marcona. The royalty was between 14 cents and 30 cents per metric ton.
Marcona sold to three markets: glass, agriculture and power.
In 2000, the AES Corporation bought the lease, hoping to convince The Bahamas government to agree to the establishment of a liquefied natural gas facility there. Amid a great deal of controversy over LNG in The Bahamas, no approvals were granted and the company eventually packed up and left.
It sold to the current owner, Sandy Cay Development Co. Limited in 2009. According to Myers, it is 100 percent Bahamian owned. The previous companies were all foreign owned.
A letter dated June 3, 2010 written by Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister David Davis to Sandy Cay's lawyer, H. Campbell Cleare III advised that approval was granted for the company "to recommence its mining operations at Ocean Cay and to export aragonite from The Bahamas".
Davis advised, "For a period of two years commencing from the date of this letter the royalty payable to the government shall be $2 per metric ton, payable at the time of export from The Bahamas."
He also wrote that the island lease payment was $7,500 per annum.
Additionally, the letter advised that the company would be afforded duty exemption on the import of equipment required for its start-up operations as per the current lease. "However, this exemption will not be extended to consumables..."
The letter also mandated that the company provide the government with quarterly statements as to the amount of aragonite mined and exported and the destination of such exports.
Davis wrote, "This office stands ready to commence negotiations for the new lease, and in this regard, you are invited to prepare a first draft".
It seems the June 3, 2010 letter from Davis -- in the absence of a public release of the lease eventually negotiated -- has fueled this misinformation of a two-year renewal.
The government signed a lease with Sandy Cay on April 20, 2012. It provides for "an initial term of 25 years". It provides for "the right of renewal hereinafter".
The lease was backdated to June 3, 2010, the date when negotiations started for the new lease.
Myers explained to National Review that after he purchased the former lease from AES in 2009, the Ingraham administration had concerns about the purchase by a Bahamian company from a foreign firm.
He said the operation was placed on hold. It resumed the following year after Davis issued the letter advising Sandy Cay that it may recommence operations while the lease negotiations take place.
The new lease signed with Sandy Cay provides for "a royalty computed as B$2 per ton for demised mineral exported from The Bahamas encompassing the first five years of the lease, after which the royalty shall be computed as 10 percent of the sales price, with a minimum fee of B$2 per ton up to a maximum fee of B$12 per ton for demised mineral exported from The Bahamas".
It also states that the rent for the lease is $7,500 per annum commencing June 3, 2010.
For years three to seven the lease payment is fixed at $8,250. It continues to rise up to years 23-25 where it is set at $11,250.
The lease provides for the government to have full access to Sandy Cay's books.
Understandably, the royalty issue has taken precedent in the raging aragonite debate.
In a document it prepared for the Ingraham government titled "Oolitic Aragonite Royalty Fee Analysis", Sandy Cay says, "The royalty fee rate should be less than the proposed B$2 per ton or for that matter far less than the new reference to in the media".
Further to this, Myers said, "There is no way that a rate of B$350 per ton or any other rate referred to in the media can be supported in the feasibility of this operation now or ever in the future."
The report states: "In fact, the proposed royalty rate of $2 already makes Ocean Cay uncompetitive with both U.S. manufacturers of sand and Freeport manufacturers of sand.
"Florida Sand Manufacturers: The royalty rate in Florida, where our main competitors operate from, is called a "tax on severance" as defined in the 2011 Florida Statutes under Section 211.31 and is currently eight percent of the sales value or about U.S.$ 0.72 per ton.
"Freeport Sand Manufacturers: The other main competitor for Ocean Cay is Martin Marietta in Freeport, Grand Bahama, who enjoys a full tax free and royalty free business environment under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. "This combined with the fact that Martin Marietta is one of the strongest aggregate producers in the U.S. makes Ocean Cay's position even more disadvantageous."
In that document to the former administration obtained by National Review, Sandy Cay proposed a royalty fee rate either in line with the original lease or no more than eight percent of the sales price (typical sales price is between $8 to $30 per ton; so, a royalty fee of between $0.64 and $2.40 per ton).
The report said, "The harvesting of aragonite through mining, followed by manufacturing, classifying, shipping and distribution, is a costly process which requires significant capital investment and a strong sales and marketing costs.
"Unlike any other mined mineral, aragonite is organic and classified by the USDA as a renewable resource, meaning that Ocean Cay is not depleting a natural resource of The Bahamas.
"According to scientific data combined with carbon analysis it is proven that aragonite is forming on a daily basis on the banks of The Bahamas. Ocean Cay is merely practicing underwater agriculture by harvesting the aragonite which is growing daily.
"We hope that you sincerely appreciate the costly investment we have made in this facility to produce one of the only green renewable minerals in the world. We sincerely need your support in making this project a success, consequently your understanding of our commitment and the costs associated with this is critical in making this a success for both Ocean Cay and The Bahamas."
Again, Myers said Sandy Cay has not and is not now making a profit.
So how has it been able to stay in business and why is it still in business?
Myers told us, "Through years of scientific and market research funded by us and the acceptance of independent public institutional research, we have now finally obtained global recognition and acceptance of ooilitic aragonite as a sustainable mineral.
"Major global companies like Procter and Gamble, McDonald's and Walmart are concerned over the environmental impact of the packaging of their products.
"The ecological concern has been a catalyst for their interest in oolitic aragonite.
"And all of these companies really recognize sustainability and the need for protecting our environment.
"The also recognize the fact that this mineral is unique in the fact that it is a major contributor to carbon sequestration from our environment.
"They love how the product fits into their global concerns, but it must be fairly priced and competitive within their respective markets."
Myers added, "They think oolitic aragonite is a great replacement to normal calcium carbonate because normal calcium carbonate also uses this market, but this is much better.
"It's not damaging the environment. It's being regenerated every year and they have to show to their consumers...that they're interested in cleaning up the environment. They're interested in using ecologically sound materials."
Myers believes Sandy Cay in the future will turn a profit.
"We hope that this will generate into a business whereby we're able to sell more into the plastics market and we are slowly making some very good inroads," he told National Review.
"We've made some small steps toward a successful business, and The Bahamas will be recognized for this contribution in a fair and equitable market driven manner.
"The Bahamian people and our company shall in due course reap the rewards of the hard efforts of our governments in developing this resource."