Chamber in 2023: Take heed of serious issues
While hopeful that the new year will continue to bring hope to the business community as 2022 did, Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Joe Guerrero reminded members “to take heed of the serious issues” besetting the CNMI.
Speaking before the 2022 “Bowties & Diamonds” Business Person of the Year annual fundraiser gala last Saturday night at Crowne Plaza Resort Saipan’s Hibiscus Hall, Guerrero said it’s no secret the tough financial challenges facing the new administration of Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and Lt. Gov. David M. Apatang.
“[These] shouldn’t be ignored or taken lightly by any individual and businesses. Because we’ve all seen the ripple effects upon our community by the government and financial crisis… [While we] should all take heed of the serious issues before us, it’s very important to avoid getting caught up in unproductive energies and distract it from our priorities,” said Guerrero.
The Chamber president said unfortunately the light at the end of the tunnel is still far off as the CNMI’s main economic driver—the tourism industry—is not expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until late 2024 or later.
“So now more than ever, we need to address the fact that we still do not have a sufficient workforce to support the return to pre- COVID tourism levels. We must work closely with Gov. Palacios and [Delegate Geregorio Kilili C. Sablan] to do a few things like pursue specific changes to U.S immigration laws and regulations that affect our access to necessary foreign labor,” he said.
Tweaks Guerrero and the Chamber have in mind is one similar to Guam’s that would finally enable the CNMI governor instead of the U.S. Department of Labor to issue temporary recertification for CW-1 visa applications.
Another in the Chamber’s laundry list is amending the CW-1 touchback provision to better suit the CNMI’s unique circumstances.
“Equally important, we must continue to work with and support NMTech and [the Northern Marianas College], and CNMI Department of Labor with all the programs they have and partner in implementing and building up our local workforce.”
At the same time, Guerrero said the CNMI should improve its tourism product for travelers looking to check out the islands.
“Why would we want visitors to come to our islands with the calmness of paradise only for them to see blighted buildings, facilities in such disrepair, trash in beaches, parks, and in our villages. This is not how I see my home and I’m sure all of you feel the same,” he said.
Alongside the tourism-unfriendly sites of the islands, Guerrero also said one of the biggest complaints from visitor exit surveys for many years is that tourists are not able to “see, feel, hear, and experience the local cultures of the CNMI”
“As a Chamber we must continue to support the promotion of Chamoro and Carolinian cultures. The Hafadai and Tirow Pledge program established in 2021 by the Chamber and the Marianas Visitors Authority, while yet to be funded, has much to grow among Chamber members themselves. So please, please continue to adopt the Hafadai and Tirow spirit ingraining it in your everyday homes and businesses.”
For 2023, Guerrero said the Chamber is ready to roll up its sleeves and help the new administration provide solutions to the aforementioned challenges.
“The Chamber truly looks forward to working diligently with Gov. Palacios, Lt. Gov. Apatang, and their administration, the Legislature, congressman Kilili, mayor Camacho, and all stakeholders to push through the challenges to be able to identify what can be promising times ahead.
Aside from Guerrero, also sworn in to fresh terms in the Chamber were vice president Joshua Wise of PHI Pharmacy, treasurer Janice Tenorio of IT&E, secretary Donna Krum of Parade Dental Spa, and board members Alex Sablan of Tan Holdings, Velma Palacios of IT&E, Ron Smith of Angil Design, and John Arroyo of Bank of Saipan.
Brad Rusala and Marcia Calvo serves as the event’s emcees.