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A nose for business

By Terrance Rey

Recently I had to laugh a lot when I heard a story about a businessman who ended up on St. Maarten and in no time he was managing a sizeable portfolio of businesses in the port. When asked how he managed to acquire so many real estate properties and businesses, he replied that when he first drove past the harbor in Pointe Blanche, he smelled business. The reason I found this so funny was because I immediately remembered the pungent smell of molasses emanating from the Pott Rum factory when I took drives to Pointe Blanche as a kid in the 1970s. This good man smelled business while most of us here on St. Maarten only smell the molasses from which the rum was made.

The irony of the humor in this story that touched me the most was the fact that indeed many people came to St. Maarten and saw – or smelled – many business opportunities, while we here on the island had no idea of the opportunities that lay right beneath our noses.

For example, I know a Canadian who came to St. Maarten wearing only a t-shirt, shorts and a backpack. He first made his living by luring tourists to resorts to buy timeshares. He then worked as a broker at a real estate agency. With the commissions he earned, he bought a piece of wasteland in Dawn Beach, built a villa, and later sold it for four times what it cost him to build. He became an instant millionaire.

Plenty of opportunities for enterprising people to become rich on St. Maarten, you would say. Nevertheless, St. Maarten residents walk around the island – or sit ‘on the block’ – complaining that they cannot get any opportunities and that foreigners take up all the jobs, buy up all the land and own all the companies on St. Maarten. But how did this come about? It all started when St. Maarteners started selling their properties for a bag of money to wealthy Americans, Canadians and Europeans. An additional disadvantage of this is that the average price per square meter has made land almost unaffordable for the locals. To build a house you have to pay at least a hundred thousand dollars just for the land alone.

In a previous column I wrote that we are ‘property rich but cash poor’ here on St. Maarten. Because if my neighbor sells his villa for a million dollars, the value of my house immediately shoots through the roof. But that doesn’t mean that I can count myself rich, because I can’t do much with that paper wealth. That is also the problem that ENNIA is now experiencing with their Mullet Bay property. Because many surrounding areas – whether or not beachfront or with an ocean view – were sold for crazy amounts in the past, the Mullet Bay property, including the golf course and the beach, was valued in ENNIA’s books for almost a billion guilders. Talking about a nose for business, Mr. Hushang Ansari also had a sharp nose for business, I would say.

Nevertheless, the question remains: if outsiders can do that, why can’t we take advantage of the many opportunities that exist here on St. Maarten ourselves? I now know a number of local forward-thinking entrepreneurs such as Marie Louise who see the possibilities of pooling their money and developing businesses through cooperative associations called ‘co-ops’. In terms of location and size, the community of St. Peter’s offers perfect opportunities for locals to create businesses, especially in the small and medium sector and in the agricultural sector. Food security is one of the drivers of local farmers such as Denicio Wyatte in St. Peter’s with which business opportunities can be created. So we here in St. Maarten have to stop smelling just rum and start smelling what Denicio is cooking in the kitchen of his garden, because he too has a good nose for business here in one of the most progressive communities of St. Maarten.

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Originally published in Dutch on DossierKoninkrijksrelaties.nl as “Een neus voor zaken

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