Looking back, Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios said the CNMI came together as one to overcome all adversity the community faced in the past year, adding that partnerships from all sectors gave them the chance to find ways to take on the challenges.
The issue on the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker or CW-1 program and consecutive typhoons hitting the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota were two of the major challenges that the Commonwealth faced in 2018.
Palacios said the Chamber banded together with the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Society for Human Resource Management NMI Chapter, and the Strategic Economic Development Council to form the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp.
The NMBAC then worked with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and his administration, and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) to fight for the extension of the CW-1 program and ensure that the CNMI would have sufficient workforce to support the economy.
The CW-1 program was scheduled to end last Dec. 31, 2018 but was extended for another 10 years brought by H.R. 5956 or the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018 that was signed into law by President Donald Trump in July last year.
However, Palacios said, their work won’t just stop there despite the gains. “As businesses, we have a lot to do as 10 years will be fast approaching. We must continue to retain, develop, and train our existing workforce, which includes providing the sufficient compensation and benefits.”
“There are also amendments to the legislation of the CW-1 program we have to work on, like the renewal dates and other requirements to ensure the sustainability of our economy,” added Palacios, who was named as the Champion’s 2018 Businessperson of the Year.
She also praised the partnership by local and federal officials in the aftermath of the two typhoons—Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu—that devastated the islands last September and October. “The entire CNMI is still recovering from Yutu. We have made tremendous progress due to Torres’ leadership, assistance from Saipan Mayor David Apatang, both local and federal organizations, military, reservists, and our off-island partners.”
“We as the business community, also helped towards this progress because we know how important it is to keep our businesses open, to ensure the needed infrastructure is up and running, to ensure our economy does not suffer tremendously.”
Palacios added that local businesses were also impacted by Yutu. “[Your businesses] sustained physical and structural damage, your employees lost their homes, and you tried to maintain operations throughout the past months as you personally have to deal with your own struggles.”
“I would like to again applaud you all for stepping up and doing your part. From finding shelter for your employees to importing supplies that the community needs, to donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief efforts. I continue to be amazed with hour our business leaders and organizations work together to help our islands and residents in times of need.”