Kay Menzies's Speech at 1st Belize City Council Business Mixer

Ms. Kay Menzies was the keynote speaker at the first ever Belize City Council Business Mixer under the theme: Creating Connections…Building the City…Together!

Here is a a copy of her speech.

Good morning...

I was born in this city. I grew up here and went to primary school, high school and sixth form here. I did go away for further studies, and when I returned, I returned to live and do business in this city. This is my city. Belize City is our city.

Too often though, when we talk about our city we focus on the negatives. We see the homeless, the beggars and streetside hustlers, the broken houses, the garbage, the traffic. We talk about the crime, and we too casually note that people from outside the city think twice and three times before visiting. Haven't we all heard people tell tourists to avoid the city and see the rest of the country in order to best enjoy Belize? Yet we live in this city and continue to do business here, and we hope our investments survive the challenges we face.

So what do we do about it? How do we improve our city and our businesses for a better future? How do we become proactive in ensuring that our investments do survive, or even...if we dare to dream...thrive? Will we continue to dwell on the negatives and add to an ever-growing list of what's wrong with the city? Do we as city officials, residents and investors let other businesses leave, or watch them die and make no effort to find ways to help? Do we let the cost of doing business in the city continue to rise on the remaining businesses so that they too eventually have to decide whether to leave or die? Or will we together decide that we can turn it all around and make this city one to be proud of?

As a start, we should take a little time to recognize and develop the city's positive attributes. For example, Belize City is the country's largest population center; the main seaport is located in Belize City, while the international airport is only ten miles away and the country's busiest domestic airstrip is also located in Belize City. This naturally means that shipping agents, courier services and international airlines keep their main offices here too. The city is home to the country headquarters of each of the commercial banks, as well as the Central Bank of Belize, making it the nation's financial capital. Several insurance companies make their homes here, as do all the major hospitals. Law firms, offshore service providers, and many other services make their homes here, as do the major utilities. The city is also a major shopping destination, and each of the country's auto dealers is headquartered here.

Switching over to tourism, while Belize City is not seen as a tourism destination, some of the country's largest hotels are here, and both major highways lead to the city, from which the water taxis also depart for our northern cayes. And I need not mention cruise ship passengers, whose first (and often only) introduction to Belize is this city. In other words, our city is not just a major center of urban economic activity and employment, it should also be recognized as the gateway for tourism that it often is.

What this means, beyond the obvious, is that we have a base to work from in creating economic development within city limits. Think about it, the employees of all these businesses need to eat, visitors coming in to work with them need hotels, cars, taxis and meeting places. Shopping must be done, cars must be fixed, patients must be treated, computers and software must be maintained and websites designed, offices must be cleaned, and so on. Those tourists passing through want to see what they can of our culture through food, arts and crafts, music, writing and all other aspects of our creativity, which we can commercialize. A call center opens, and not too long after that a restaurant opens next door, and then another. In other words, the presence of business brings more business. In the most successful, strategically designed examples of this, clusters of businesses proactively foster rapid entrepreneurial growth and innovation. It goes without saying that all of this activity leads to the growth and development of the host city, making it a magnet both for those seeking employment and for those wanting to reach a bigger market with their products or services.

To make all of this happen, we (the city and its businesses) need to work as partners. It sounds both simple and obvious, but partnership, the idea that a municipal authority and its business community need not/should not be adversarial, is a new idea for us. Like any relationship this kind of partnership demands commitment from both sides, careful and constant work, and a great deal of trust. From the city, businesses need infrastructure, welcoming and clean surroundings, a safe and secure environment, and the lowest possible costs of doing business. From businesses, the city needs the resources to provide those things. And of course, the more businesses that start in the city or relocate to the city, the more resources the city can then gather. Think of it as the economic version of a very delicately balanced ecosystem. The most successful cities we can think of practice just such a balance and the results are exemplary.

Because of the obvious opportunities for entrepreneurship created by virtue of being the nation's largest population center, many city residents do want to start businesses. However, the challenges startups face can be quite extreme and expensive, meaning that the chance of failure is correspondingly high. If the city can find ways to structure itself as an incubator, creating packages to encourage small business, especially incentivizing businesses willing to set up and develop in targeted areas, areas which may currently be suffering from urban blight, this is win-win partnership. Such a strategy can even be very specific as to types of businesses encouraged, can include a real estate component whereby the city makes available abandoned properties it has acquired through nonpayment of taxes at a special rate to encourage development, can begin to phase in a zoned approach by encouraging specific types of businesses to Ôcluster' in those areas, and should involve a city marketing campaign that highlights business activity and the advantages to doing business in Belize City.

Against the backdrop of the advantages, we also cannot forget that the city has competition. Belmopan as the seat of government is also a growing municipality and one that's centrally located. San Pedro, long established in tourism, with its large number of hotels, is now pulling large conferences away from the city, which needs more and larger hotels and lacks convention facilities. Ladyville is a much less expensive place for doing business and has a large and growing population to support those businesses. Chetumal has the mall, Sam's, the movies, the restaurants, the perception of personal safety that people are looking for when they want to shop and relax. It is important that we take a serious look at what our competition is doing in order to see what we need to do to make our city a popular place to visit, to do business and yes, even recreate.

Changing the image of our city will require an honest look at our strengths and weaknesses, and it will require commitment to building on the former while fixing the latter. We need a different, more entrepreneurial approach all around, an approach where the city and its businesses can work together as partners in development. We must agree that our city can be a leading municipality and a welcoming place to live and do business, and then we must work to make it happen. As businesspeople we want to win and we want to affiliate with winners. We also want to do business in a winning environment. What will that take? Let's take that honest look and let's be sure we tell City Hall what we need in order for us to do our part to make the city develop, and City Hall, we of course need you to listen and respond. The Chamber has begun to work with the City Council on finding answers to some of the challenges we face. However, it will take the efforts of all businesses and city residents to make this city what it can be. Let's make it happen.