The Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s virtual monthly general membership meeting last Wednesday also served as a chance for Chamber members to meet and hear two of Saipan’s senatorial candidates: incumbent Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) and former Labor secretary Edith Deleon Guerrero of the Democratic Party
In what was billed as “Coffee with 2020 Saipan Senate Candidates,” the two shared their views on the state of the CNMI economy, workforce, the pandemic, and other issues, plus their mandates if ever they are elected.
Igisomar said his work in the Senate and current platform is an offshoot of his work as a former Commerce secretary.
“I have devoted my time as a senator to expand economic industries, work hard for businesses, and to help investors thrive in our economy …The management of our economy is the most important priority of our Commonwealth and it requires a comprehensive community approach that includes homes, villages, non-governmental organizations, private sector, and federal partners,” he said.
“Now more than ever we need everyone… helping small businesses should also be a priority… ‘Think big, start small’ this should be our theme to stabilize the economy. …We need to diversify our economy. …Let’s go back to basics—agriculture, fishing, and work on ‘one island, one product’ mentality. Although we are faced with a pandemic, we need to make things work so we will have a sustainable community,” he added.
For her part, Deleon Guerrero’s platform works around proper, good, and sound financial management in government.
“The current situation is not the best for our Commonwealth. …We need to spur the economy and create an environment that will promote economic stability and take care of the needs of the people. …We have a lot of federal money that came in from the U.S. government like the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance…and Paycheck Protection Program. For PUA, we need to accelerate the process of releasing them so we can give it out to the community and help spur more consumer spending and the will also help businesses,” she said. “…We need to encourage stakeholders like the Commonwealth Development Authority to roll out funding for small businesses or even existing businesses for much-needed working capital to keep them going until we get out of this COVID-19 situation,” she added.
Deleon Guerrero is no stranger to public service. She served as Labor secretary until she left the post in 2017. As a private citizen, she manages her own business and has immense experience in banking and insurance.
When asked what they think the biggest challenge of the islands is, Igisomar said it would be labor and immigration. “These are not under our control and up to now, I am still baffled on how we can achieve a sound economy with so much limitations in our much-needed labor force…the labor issue has impacted our hospital… Unlike the U.S. and other nations, we are expected to rely on our local workforce to stimulate the economy…there should be no room for poverty, unemployment…we are expected to be perfect… which I find unfair because as a young territory, we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
“The learning curve to replace foreign workers has been challenging and costly for the community and businesses. The labor issue has impacted the nurses in our hospital, construction, rebuilding, skilled workers for CUC, and so on. We do have training and support from DOL, Northern Marianas College, Northern Marianas Trade Institute, Latte Training, but the output from our local and federal partners is falling short. These are the things we need to work on,” he added.
Deleon Guerrero said there will never be an end on the need for training. “The need to continuously fund the education system should not exclude NMTI. …NMTI is a trade school. …Not everyone will go to academic [schools] so we need to look at the opportunity to start training programs and pump money to training plumbers, construction workers, masons, electricians, etc. as these areas of significant training and skill building. This will also encourage entrepreneurship.”
“People keep taking about that there’s no money but again it takes us back to when we had money and what happened to all the money? We will always need workforce development to access foreign workers to help our economy but we need to first invest in human capital,” she added.