Over-the-Hill initiative impact not readily apparent

More than a year after the Minnis administration’s Community Development Partnership Initiative came into effect in November 2018, many business owners are saying they have not seen much of an impact in the community.

The Economic Empowerment Zones Act, 2018 offers tax exemptions and benefits for residents and businesses in the designated economic zones.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has noted that, through these initiatives, the government hopes to see a rebirth of the values, beauty and economic viability of Over-the-Hill.

He has said the idea of the initiative is to reinvigorate businesses, create job opportunities, stimulate higher living standards and improve the quality of life for residents of the community.

However, none of the business owners who spoke with The Nassau Guardian yesterday reported receiving concessions through the initiative.

“Since the Over-the-Hill project was announced, I haven’t seen or heard of any other business that received any breaks or help from it,” Cayle Mortimer, president of Mortimer Candies, said yesterday.

“I haven’t actually known that there was a start date. There was no communication of it after it was being announced.

“That’s pretty much it. I just heard that they were starting it, but there was no information on it; nowhere suggested where I can find information, anything about it.”

Last March, Minnis said the government would “ramp up” the initiative following reports that fewer than 20 individuals have benefitted from tax concessions in the inner city neighborhoods.

That May, it opened a branch office of the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) at the Edmund Moxey Youth and Community Center for residents of the area, and a few months later, the SBDC graduated 18 “clients” from its Over-the-Hill program, touting $45,000 being invested directly into the Over-the-Hill communities via grant checks for investment.

However, since then no update has been provided on the initiative’s status, and Community Development Partnership Initiative officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

During a visit to the area, a number of businesses were visibly closed down completely, with buildings chained up or dilapidated.

Other businesses seemed deserted, with some having only one or two employees in stores with no air conditioning or clear parking spaces.

A majority who spoke with The Guardian said managers or owners did not usually come in at all.

Mortimer Candies was one of the few establishments that appeared to have an ongoing flow of clients.

Its owner said that he has not received any concessions from the initiative, adding that he was not even encouraged to pursue concessions by any official representative of the initiative but rather from a customer that came into the store one day.

He claimed no Over-the-Hill project member has visited the area to spread awareness or information about the initiative.

“They actually posted a sign outside on the lamp pole when it first was being announced, but that was it,” Mortimer said.

Styan McKenzie, proprietor of a small takeaway, echoed his sentiments as she and an employee chatted with a patron inside.

“A young man who I know from through Hay Street, he came in and he was explaining it to me. But I have never seen nobody ever came here,” she said.

She admitted that her business has only just opened a week ago, however, she said she had been planning it for five years and did not receive any concessions from government.

“You know, I haven’t been too long open. I’ve been building here but I’m not too long open. [But] I was planning this for a while. I was planning this for like more than five years and never got concessions from the government. I did this all by myself… No one never told me nothing,” she said.

James Smith, owner of Jeremiah’s Variety Store, however, said he believes the Over-the-Hill initiative has been having a positive impact.

Speaking with The Guardian in his store with only one employee apparently present, Smith said he is “totally aware” of the initiative.

“I would say – to say I directly benefitted from it, no, because I didn’t apply for any of the government initiatives. However, I do believe it has helped, generally, at least other people that may have benefitted from it,” he said.

He added, “I’m aware of all of the initiatives, I’m following it closely.”

Asked if he believes government is on the right track with the program, he said: “I believe they are, and there are people who could use the assistance, actually. And so, yeah, I do think they are on the right track, to be honest with you.”

However, Smith added that he would suggest government make it easier for small businesses to benefit from the programs it has rolled out.

“I would actually say that some of the initiatives that the government has provided for small businesses, I think they need to make them a little more accessible,” Smith said.

“Because at this point right now…applying for a lot of the initiatives is a bit cumbersome. So, I believe that they need to make it where it’s more readily available for persons who want the opportunities.”

McKenzie, meanwhile, said she would like government officials to visit the area to better assist them.

While she expressed optimism that her business will do well, she nonetheless said, “They should come and check us out.

“Check all of us small business people out and see what’s going on so we can take it further.”

Mortimer had a similar plea, calling for government to “start the project”.

“Help the small businesses Over-the-Hill,” he said. “f you look going down East Street Hill, just about every other business is closing every two weeks.

“If you drive down East Street and look, and pass, you’ll notice it’s dead.

“So, if it’s not on Bay Street, not in the mall, not in Palmdale, everything is closing.”

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