It was not all gloom and doom in 2012. Despite the persistent weakness of the local economy, the business sector had many glimmers of good news that provided respite from the political turmoil that happened throughout much of 2012. Here is a rundown of the top business stories of 2012:
Arctic Circle Air launches cargo services
The promotion of the CNMI's agricultural commodities and byproducts had been at a standstill for many years until 2012 when Arctic Circle Air Services Inc., finally took off, about a year after initial plans about the locally owned cargo airline were announced and $1.2 million in funding was secured from public and private investors.
The company's Britten-Norman aircraft arrived on Saipan in September. The company secured a warehouse and administrative office space at the airport that were later inspected and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and had the cargo airline license and headquarters officially transferred from Alaska to the Northern Marianas. The company finally launched its first cargo flight last October.
Less than two months later, Arctic Circle Air Services, Inc. began delivering mail as a subcontractor for United Airlines. Due to the high demand for cargo between the CNMI and Guam, the company is now eyeing an additional aircraft that would open doors to a bigger market for local farmers.
More China and Russia flights arrive
Despite the challenges and difficulties it presented, year 2012 proved to be a good year for the CNMI's tourism industry. The Commonwealth's premier economic engine showed signs of recovery as it welcomed tourists flown by additional charter flights from China Eastern Airlines and AviaCharter DV.
Recognizing the emergence of Chinese travelers as a growing market, tourism officials in the Northern Marianas emphasized the importance of China Eastern Airlines' thrice-a-week direct flights from Beijing, in addition to the regular charter service from Shanghai and Guangzhou provided by Sichuan Airlines.
AviaCharter DV, meanwhile, will be operating 19 charter flights to the CNMI from October 2012 to March 2013, and island leaders also touted the importance of growing Russian market for their positive contribution to the local economy, given their length of their visit and spending power while on island.
The additional airline seats are a boost to the Commonwealth's economic growth last year following sharp increases in visitor arrivals for the islands' two major tourism markets.
E-Land Group acquires properties
While some businesses have bailed out from the CNMI due to the economic downturn, a South Korean conglomerate has expanded its real estate holdings in the Commonwealth's capital, purchasing stocks and taking ownership of several hotel properties in 2012.
E-Land Group, through its subsidiary E-Land Park, purchased Palms Resort Saipan to the tune of a $20- million asset sale from former owner United Micronesia Development Association. The sale, which took several months to finalize, included Paupau Terrace, dormitories, and interest in Tropical Laundry & Linen Supply Co. Ltd. UMDA said the new owner also absorbed Palms Resort Saipan's engineering and maintenance staff that take care of the San Roque facility.
In September last year, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial announced that the real estate firm also became the majority owner of Coral Ocean Point, which was previously owned by Suwaso Corp. The governor said that E-Land Group assured him of their plans to develop the beachfront hotel and golf course property in Achugao.
E-Land Group is also believed to have purchased stocks of Pacific Islands Club in San Antonio, and has expressed interest in leasing some 34,000 square meters of public land, also in San Antonio, to develop a new hotel resort.
Saipan Grand rebrands as Kanoa Resort
The Year 2012 was a big year for Tan Holdings, a family-owned regional corporation that operates a portfolio of hotels in the Marianas. Besides celebrating 40 years of doing business in the region, the company also saw in June the rebranding of Kanoa Resort Saipan, formerly known as Saipan Grand Hotel, which became a timely venture as the island and the rest of the Commonwealth saw an upsurge in the tourism industry.
Since then, the 224-room beachfront property along Beach Road in Susupe has introduced new facilities and upgraded existing ones to the tune of well over $1 million in order to give guests a wonderful experience during their stay on the island.
Tan Holdings president Jerry Tan said the rebranding is an indication of their company's continued commitment to the islands, making the CNMI competitive with rival tourist destinations.
Triple J thrives in a down economy
After constructing the first affordable housing project in the CNMI, Sandy Beach Homes, business tycoon Robert “Bob” Jones of Triple J Saipan Inc. is on a roll, with plans to build a second affordable project, Blue Water Homes, already underway. Once site is finalized, the $30-million project would involve the construction of 80 two-, three-, and four-bedroom units that feature “green technology.”
Jones, whose company owns several businesses on island such as Tony Roma's, Capricciosa, and Triple J Motors, established a new firm, Saipan Surfrider, LLC, which plans to develop a new resort hotel at the site of the former Pacific Gardenia and Silver in Chalan Kanoa to address the growing demand on Saipan’s tourism industry and as part of efforts to revitalize the former capital of the island. The developer of the $12.1-million project, set to commence this month, is currently applying for a qualifying certificate with the Commonwealth Development Authority.