Monday, March 28, 2011

On vacation in the Carribean and looking for Black Businesses

Well, I got a cheap package for vacation for a couple days, so I am here in St. Thomas. The population 50,000 and a small island economy(SIE). The unemployment rate is 8.5% according to the VI department of labor. The US national unemployment rate is 8.9%. Interesting place.

So everything seems good in paradise right ?

Well not quite. Few of the private jobs pay more than $7.25, the minimum wage. Blacks have done well in politics, civil service and education. They also make up many of the front line workers in all sorts of food, hotel and tourism businesses. But they are getting creamed when it come to ownership. Like almost all caribbean SIE's Blacks are struggling to own businesses.

The large hotels are chains and employee many Black workers and managers. For example, Marriott's Frenchmen's reef employs about 500 people. However, the small hotels are family owned and white owned. They employee some low-level Black workers but any major management job is reserved for family.

The jewelery and retail stores are owned by people from the Middle East, Jewish and Indians. Furniture and hardware stores are also family controlled by whites of mid-easterners. Whites also control the yacht tendering and maintenance business, major construction and real estate development companies. All of these business are kept in the family,so there is little chance for Black ownership.

Blacks do run the government and the transportation industry. They handle the majority of low-end retail, non management jobs.

However, the level of opportunity "feels" less than in the states. Many Blacks and educated Virgin Islanders leave for the mainland to go to school and never return. Actually, any one with ambition generally leaves; white, Black, young or old, immigrant or native. People from the USVI do well in the US, just like any other immigrant person.

Is the lopsided business situation really that bad ? Are people happy ?

Well, if you really want to change something you have to have a certain dissatisfication with the existing order of things. People have to want to change the status quo enough to make some sort of sacrifice. And that does not seems happening. People, across the board, are quite happy here in the USVI. They also have better health and a longer life span than the average US continental. They have a close network of family and friends to keep them going. Finally, they have basic jobs and government jobs that provide productive activity and a basic wage. All of which combined give a better life than those in the states.

So, I guess we shouldn't rock the boat.

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