Gov. Ralph DLG Torres hopes that his creation of the 14-member Governor’s Council of Economic Adviser would lead to everyone pitching in and buying into how the CNMI economy can be restarted and its borders reopened.
Speaking to reporters last week, Torres said his creation of the council is intended to make sure “that we all have a stake in this, that if the council suggests to open whatever businesses, and how to open those businesses, that everybody has a stake in it, and that we all move in that one direction.”
The governor is looking forward to the council’s conversation with the business community, particularly on setting up a timetable, and on how and what approach would be best to open businesses together. He also said that he is excited to get the council’s recommendations.
Torres wants all stakeholders’ to be involved in planning for the economy, stressing that “everything that we’re doing, we’re doing it with all the stakeholders’ participation.”
Torres abolished the Strategic Economic Development Council last Wednesday and created the council in its place as a body that will give him advice on the CNMI economy. The council, whose members are all unpaid, is expected to have its first meeting as a full body this week.
Confidence on appointees
Torres is confident in all 14 members of the council. TanHoldings chief executive officer Jerry Tan was the designated by the governor as his co-chair, with the other members being Sen. Frank S. Borja (R-Tinian), Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), Michael S. Sablan, Roman “Bo” T. Palacios, Matthew Deleon Guerrero, Masato Tezuka, Alex Sablan, Joe C. Guerrero, Don J. Power, Marcie M. Tomokane, Alex B.K. Youn, Aubry Hocog, and Gary Sword.
“First off, I am very confident in everyone’s leadership. I want to thank all of the members who are part of the Governor’s Economic Council. Everyone, members and advisors, come from different walks of life, different background, but I do know that we all have the same interest in reopening CNMI the right way,” he said.
With the council’s recommendations, Torres is confident that the CNMI will open the right way and at the right pace. “I am excited with these advisors, and I’m very confident that we, the people in the CNMI, are in great hands with the advisers, especially also having Jerry Tan as our chairman of the council.”
One of the members, KKMP’s Sword, said he is honored to represent the media in the council, to make sure that all are working together to ensure that the islands survive, and that a new and improved CNMI can arise.
“This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to rebuild a community from nothing, destroyed by super typhoons, by the pandemic, but we’re coming back stronger, bigger, and better,” Sword added.
Slowly but surely
With tourism lying low, not just in the CNMI but worldwide, Torres acknowledges that, while he is hopeful, a slow growth for the economy is to be expected and that new industries are needed. “I think realistically, we need to embrace that our economy’s [going to] grow back slowly. …That’s [the] realistic approach,” he said.
With the CNMI’s tourism industry on pause, Torres is encouraging other industries to come in, and help diversify the islands’ economy.
“I encourage other industries to come to the island[s] and see how we can create jobs,” he said. “…We would like to diversify our market here, especially the fact that tourism is [going to] take a while before we get back to where we were at before this virus.”
The governor also highlighted agriculture and fishing, as important industries in the Commonwealth and is encouraging the development of call centers, with a security calling center now in place, and also revealed that there are a couple of personal protective equipment manufacturers interested in doing business in the CNMI.
Torres said how he would love to have the economy back to where it was before COVID-19, but with the CNMI now struggling to stay afloat, and with its main industry significantly impacted, the governor is calling for other industries to invest in the CNMI.