CHRISTIANSTED — Attorney Akeel St. Jean has been elected chairman of the board of directors for the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce.
St. Jean, 31, has replaced former chairman Ryan Nelthropp, and will serve a two-year term.
“It was a surprise, actually, they called me and said we really think you ought to be chair,” St. Jean said Monday. “This was not something I had campaigned for or anything like that. It was a couple board members who thought I would do a good job, and they nominated me and the rest is history.”
A partner in the law firm of McChain, Hamm & St. Jean LLP, St. Jean was born and raised in the Virgin Islands. He received his juris doctorate from the University of Maryland School of Law, and clerked for a judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals before returning to the Virgin Islands to clerk for Judge Robert Molloy, who now serves with the U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands.
St. Jean served as an assistant attorney general of the Virgin Islands before entering private practice, and is in his second term serving on both the Board of Governors of the Virgin Islands Bar Association and the Board of Directors of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce.
St. Jean is taking over leadership of the Chamber at a particularly difficult time for St. Croix businesses.
“The St. Croix and the Virgin Islands community has dealt with some serious economic drawbacks over the past couple of years. First, we had to deal with Irma and Maria, and the pandemic sort of wreaked havoc on the economy afterwards, right when we were starting to rebound. So, it’s going to be challenging,” St. Jean said. “But with the right level of advocacy and focus on economic growth, and economic development, and business-friendly policies, I think we can rebound and get Virgin Islanders back to work.”
In terms of the future, “I think that we have to move back toward safe tourism. We have the vaccine that’s rolled out and as more and more people get vaccinated, I think we’ll be able to move toward safe tourism. That being said, we can’t be too reliant on tourism, we have to diversify our economy significantly,” St. Jean said. “One of the most important agenda points that I’ll be championing is making it easier to do business in the Virgin Islands. We have a system that is dysfunctional, and makes it very, very difficult to get entities formed and licenses to the business, and many people in the business community complain about that. So that’s one area where I think it would do wonders for encouraging economic development, just making it easier to start a business, to operate a business and ultimately to be successful.”
Access to capital has also been an obstacle for many Virgin Islanders looking to start or grow their business, and St. Jean said linking entrepreneurs with investors and government resources is another area the Chamber can be of service.
“Sometimes a lot of opportunities are not utilized because of a lack of communication and a lack of messaging,” St. Jean said. “I think the Chamber is the perfect tool to accomplish that because we have a lot of attorneys, accountants, and finance professionals as members, so if we all get together and publicize opportunities for financing and for growth, we can have some beneficial impact in the community.”