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Report: NMI economy grew by 25% in 2017

THE real gross domestic product for the CNMI grew by 25.1 percent in 2017 after increasing 28.2 percent in 2016, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It said the CNMI’s real GDP is now officially at $1.32 billion, the highest GDP for the CNMI since the BEA started GDP estimates for the U.S. territories in 2002.

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“For comparison, real GDP for the United States (excluding the territories) increased 2.2 percent in 2017 after increasing 1.6 percent in 2016,” BEA Director Brian C. Moyer said during a meeting Thursday morning with Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres and  CNMI Department of Commerce officials.

The governor said before 2017, the economy had already experienced five consecutive years of economic growth since 2012. He also noted how far the CNMI has come in developing its economy.

“To go from where we were when our economy was declining every year since 2004 to where we are now, in which we see a 25.1 percent increase in 2017 and the fastest in the country for the second straight year is remarkable. This progress truly is a testament to the collaboration between the private sector, our government, and the entire community,” Torres said.

“Those dark days in our economy were not too long ago, and I know we all remember those days. Our tourism industry was struggling with low arrival numbers, large and small businesses were struggling, rolling blackouts were common, but more importantly, many of our friends and families were struggling to make ends meet. But now we see an economy that has provided more opportunities for everyone. People now have more confidence to purchase and invest in the things they want. If we continue this progress, every person who calls these islands home will achieve even greater success,” he said.

Secretary of Commerce Mark O. Rabauliman said the level of growth for the last two years reflects the administration’s economic agenda that prioritizes small businesses, entrepreneurship, and increasing the purchasing power of every resident.

 “This latest report from the BEA is a significant indicator of the success of this administration’s economic policies. Sustaining this economic upswing requires all of us as a community to work together. I want to thank the governor, his administration, the Legislature, and the business community for their continued support. Special recognition goes to all the agencies that provided the data for the GDP report. I also want to thank our folks here in the Department of Commerce, especially the Central Statistics Division, for their hard work.”

The report reflected widespread increases in connection with various components of the GDP. The largest contributor to CNMI’s economic growth in 2016 was the export of services, which grew by 27.8 percent. This can be translated to the growth in visitor spending through the tourism and gaming industries. Visitor arrivals grew 24 percent in 2017, following an increase of 11 percent in 2016.

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U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan also met with BEA Director  Brian C. Moyer for a briefing on the agency’s estimates of the 2017 gross domestic product for the CNMI.

 “This information is incredibly valuable to have,” Congressman Sablan said in a statement. “It gives government officials feedback they can use in shaping policy; and it gives the public an objective measure of whether our economy is headed in the right direction.”

He said Congress provides $750,000 to pay for production of the annual economic data. The funding covers American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the CNMI.

In addition to discussing the 2017 GDP numbers, Kilili said he and Moyers also talked about what more Congress could do to broaden the usefulness of BEA’s work in the Northern Marianas and the other insular areas.

“One improvement would be to make these releases more real-time,” Sablan said. “If we could move to more frequent, quarterly updates of GDP, then policy-makers here in the Commonwealth would be that much better equipped to manage local government finances.”

Kilili added, “The Bureau of Economic Analysis has developed the methodology for producing the annual reports on GDP; and the Commonwealth’s agencies that collect the raw data have built their capacity. Looking forward, I would like to build on what has been accomplished.”