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    Sunday, December 17, 2017-11:12:33A.M.






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Finance chief: Economy will continue to recover

CNMI Secretary of Finance Larissa Larson told a business conference on Thursday that the local economy is finally recovering after years of decline.

“We are all keenly aware of how far we’ve come with our economy. It wasn’t too long ago that we were in the midst of a deep and persistent economic depression,” said Larson, the keynote speaker at the first CNMI Business and Finance Conference at Saipan World Resort.

“Businesses both large and small felt this impact and were struggling to stay afloat. Each and every one of us in this room and throughout the commonwealth struggled to survive one of the most challenging times in our commonwealth’s history.

“But things are different now. Over the last couple of years, we have experienced a surge of development in our tourism industry.

“I’m happy to report that we are recovering and we will continue to recover.

“In just five years, we have seen our revenue almost double from the low point in 2011.

“As it stands now, gross budgetary resources of the CNMI government amount to close to $213 million.”

She said the figure is a product of the considerable growth in the CNMI economy from increased tourist arrivals and regulatory collections.

“With this current trend of economic growth, the Torres/Hocog team and their administration recognize the opportunity to fulfill many of the government’s financial obligations while simultaneously increasing the efficacy of public services.

“With the passage of this year’s budget, you will also see long standing issues such as land compensation claims and unpaid judgments finally resolved in the next couple of years.”

Larson said it is critical to acknowledge that the CNMI economy is not just the islands’ primary industry and its new developments, but also includes a commitment to promoting entrepreneurship and small businesses.

“It is about supporting anyone who wants to start a business, share their ideas, and create a better life for themselves, their families and their commonwealth.

“We recognize the vital role our business community has played in our economic growth and recovery and it is critical that we take this recognition to the next level and enhance the foundations that have already been put in place by our partners who are all here today,” added Larson.

Bank of Guam’s president, CEO and board chair Lourdes Leon Guerrero also spoke at the two-day conference.

She reiterated their bank’s commitment to be an active participant in shaping the progress and course of the business and economic future throughout Micronesia and Marianas.

“With a sustained economy, businesses are started, businesses flourish and they grow and succeed,” she said. “Jobs are created, people are employed, consumer spending increases and over-all well-being improves with a better educational system, quality healthcare and a safer environment.”

In her remarks, Tina Sablan of U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan’s office talked about the federal economic programs they’re involved in.

From left, Perry Inos Jr. of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce; Lourdes Leon Guerrero, president, CEO and board chair of the Bank of Guam; Larrisa Larson, secretary of Finance; Manuel Sabalan, executive director, Commonwealth Development Authority; Ike Perez CDA board chairman, Asterio Takesy, Bank of Guam; and Tina Sablan, deputy communications director of the office of U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan.  Photo by Bryan Manabat

She said it was Kilili who made the $13 million in State Small Business Credit Initiative available to the CNMI.

“This is actually a case in which the federal government asked the congressional office for help with the problem with the initiative starting back in 2010…. Each state and territory had funds set aside, the Northern Marianas got $13 million, the same as Hawaii, Wyoming, Maine and many other states. Each jurisdiction had to sign up to participate and there was a deadline that was fast approaching.

“The CNMI had not signed up and we were at risk of losing $13 million that had been set aside for us. The U.S. Treasury contacted Congressman Kilili and asked for help.The congressman contacted the CNMI governor about filing the notice of intent to apply, and about actually submitting the application.

“The CNMI did apply and over $4 million in credit became immediately available, and when that was used another $4 million became available, and the third and final $4 million is waiting if we use up that second $4 million.

“The [Commonwealth Development Authority] has done a terrific job administering the program working with Bank of Guam, City Trust Bank — they have helped 40 small businesses here with loans ranging from $25,000 to $1.5 million.

“As those loans are paid off the money from the [State Small Business Credit Initiative] will stay right here in the Northern Marianas to help other small businesses grow. It is a great example of how people have worked together successfully to use resources that Congress created to help small businesses.”

Tina Sablan also spoke about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s outreach services and support of community-based economic development in the CNMI.

She said USDA was instrumental in contributing $500,000 of the $1.8 million investment of Marianas Business Plaza in solar power.

USDA likewise awarded Pacific Wind and Solar $1.4 million to install solar power systems in 80 low-income homes in the Marianas.

In addition, “USDA has provided community-facility grants to [the Department of Public Safety, the Commonwealth HealthCare Corp.] and others, and recently a low interest $2.8 million loan to the [Public School System] to build new classrooms.”

As for the U.S. Small Business Administration, Tina Sablan said:

“Here on Saipan after Typhoon Soudelor we saw first-hand how quickly that agency can mobilize federal resources to help small businesses in times of disaster. Within weeks of the storm SBA issued 104 disaster assistance loans worth more than $10 million to help Saipan businesses get back on their feet, not to mention 361 loans worth another $13 million to help individual households in the recovery which is also good for business.”

According to Tina Sablan,“Every year, as appropriation bills get to Congress, all the members including ours submit their funding priorities, and the appropriation committee that receives thesefunding priorities reviews all the recommendations that members submit for funding…. [E]veryone takes a lot time and effort to make sure appropriators know where the members think the money should be spent, so when Congressman Kilili submits his recommendations to the appropriations committee, he is voting for USDA, SBA as well as economic developments programs of the U.S. Departments of Commerce and the Interior.

“All these federal monies that eventually become available for our people in the Northern Marianas come from Congress — $187 million in federal funds last year.”

According to Tina Sablan,, “This conference is a chance to learn about the opportunities that are available and we encourage all of you to take advantage of the presence of all the federal officials who are here today — they are here to help, and please remember that your congressional office is also here always ready to help.”

The 2016 Business & Finance Conference was held from Sept. 15-16, 2016 in Royal Taga Hall at Saipan World Resort.

The conference was a collaboration among the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of Guam, and the Commonwealth Development Authority, and it gathered small and large business leaders as well as federal and local agency officials and representatives.