St Kitts and Nevis was virtually a sugar monocrop economy until the late 1970s, when the government backed a drive into small-scale industrialisation. Tourism has become the largest source of foreign exchange. From 1984 a small offshore sector on Nevis grew rapidly, with around 18,000 companies registered by 1999, and in 2005 St Kitts established a registry of ships and yachts, which had registered 530 vessels in 2014. The Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine of the USA has an offshore campus on St Kitts.
Despite the challenges of industrial diversification at such small scale, electronics assembly, food-processing, and beverages and clothing production were developed. By 2000 sugar production only accounted for some 20 per cent of GDP and by 2005 it had ceased altogether.
Foreign debt rose rapidly from the mid-1990s, in large measure due to the consequences of five hurricanes in five years. After strong growth in 2000, the economy hardly grew in 2001–03, reflecting the downturn in the USA and consequent fall in tourism, but there was investment in new tourist resorts and golf courses, and the economy picked up in 2004. It then maintained growth of five per cent p.a. over 2004–08, slowing from 2008 with the onset of the world economic downturn in that year, shrinking by 5.6 per cent in 2009 and 3.2 per cent in 2010. After a pause in 2011–12, good growth returned from 2013, continuing into 2015.