The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration is awarding a $6 million grant to the CNMI Public School System to support construction of a vocational training facility. The EDA grant, to be matched with $6 million in local investment, is expected to create 85 jobs.
A statement from the Office of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said the money will be used to build a technical and career education center at Marianas High School. An EDA news release quotes assistant secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo as saying that the money will facilitate the construction of a two-story, 50,000-square foot facility to house hospitality, automotive technology, nursing, cosmetology, and other vocational training programs.
Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo said in the same EDA news release that this grant will support the CNMI’s ongoing recovery from the impact of Super Typhoon Yutu by expanding worker training opportunities “to ensure that the Commonwealth builds back stronger.”
Sablan said he received word of the award shortly after meeting with Castillo. The PSS grant is the last of seven applications from the Commonwealth with the EDA for Super Typhoon Yutu recovery projects. EDA has now awarded $93,891,034.
“PSS has waited for over two years for this grant decision,” Sablan said. “So, I thank Assistant Secretary Castillo for taking action today. And I thank President Biden’s administration for the six long-awaited grants awarded this year.”
The EDA news release quotes Gov. Ralph DLG Torres as saying, “Building our local workforce is a paramount priority here in the CNMI, and this vocational training facility for [PSS] will assist our ongoing efforts to develop skilled workers to fill jobs within our economy and improve the quality of life for our island community. …We are thankful to EDA for its partnership in rebuilding our economy and ensuring resiliency for our Commonwealth.”
The Sablan news release states that funding for the EDA recovery grants and eligibility for the Marianas was included in U.S. Public Law 116-20 in June 2019 at Sablan’s request. “Within a few months, Commonwealth agencies had submitted seven grant applications. But the Trump administration failed to act. Only one application—$10.7 million for the Northern Marianas College—received approval,” it said.
Sablan said that congressional office staff met with the incoming Biden administration right after the November election to flag the long delay in these Yutu grants. “Once President Biden was sworn in, we finally started getting help. …All the Commonwealth’s applications for Yutu recovery grants from EDA have now been awarded,” Sablan added.
EDA also gave the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. $1.7 million from the Yutu recovery funds for a court-ordered water filtration system on Saipan.
PSS plans to match the $6 million grant from EDA with another $6 million of Community Development Block Grant funds, also provided by Congress in U.S. Public Law 116-20. The new technical and career training facility at the high school is expected to increase the pool of skilled, U.S. workers in the Marianas to offset dependence on a foreign workforce and provide higher paying jobs for PSS graduates. (Saipan Tribune)