TOGETHER, WE CAN
When the CNMI House and Senate unanimously passed House Bill 22-21, transforming the Commonwealth Development Authority into the Commonwealth Economic Development Authority, the Marianas created a centralized agency that would take the lead in conducting proactive outreach and promotion of our islands as premier locations for investments.
Under the new law, CEDA was given tools to perform its mandate, one of which is the implementation of the Qualifying Certificate Program. Our last QC Program was formulated in 2000, and the last application made was in 2017 with only three applicants in the last five years. These numbers are telling us that the 21-year-old program must adapt to the current market conditions and make the Marianas more attractive to prospective investors.
The Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers has suggested amendments to the QC Program and is pleased that these changes are strongly considered with the House’s passage of the Investment Incentive Act of 2021. Also known as House Bill 22-70 and authored by Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), the proposal would reform the Investment Incentive Act of 2000. One provision on the bill would require CEDA to create a targeted industry listing or determine the industries eligible to apply for the QC Program in line with the five-year economic development goals of the Marianas.
The Investment Incentive Act of 2000 listed “areas” (e.g. water parks, theme parks) of businesses eligible for the QC Program. Two decades later, a majority of them (e.g. aquarium, dinner theater) are now deemed unviable in the Marianas.
The Investment Incentive Act of 2021 calls for the implementation of the North American Industry Classification System in identifying the targeted industry listing (e.g. Accommodations and Food Services, Information, Construction, Utilities, Finance and Insurance, Agriculture).
The new QC Program also contains critical provisions for the incentives we could offer to companies that are interested in investing or expanding their businesses here. Providing typical tax relief and abatements would not be enough to lure investors. To make the Marianas more competitive in the market, CEDA is tasked to formulate and implement the CNMI Strategic Investment Program.
The plan will include identifying feasible locations for development, along with the economic potential of the investment. It will also provide pre-approved tax incentives, and permitting authorizations for the project. Once the land to be developed has been identified and pre-approved for development, CEDA would go out in the market and solicit proposals from investors to implement the planned development.
The proposed Investment Incentive Act of 2021 has safeguards in place for vetting legitimate investors, as CEDA will be authorized to charge non-refundable due diligence and compliance fees for companies applying for the QC Program.
Another critical component of House Bill 22-70 is the establishment of economic development zones. Each of the islands has unique opportunities to offer investors. Development should not be limited to Saipan and must be extended to Rota and Tinian as well.
With the support of our lawmakers and other stakeholders, CEDA will have the necessary tools to do its job and push for economic diversification in The Marianas.
For more information, visit the GCEA at cnmieconomy.com, on Facebook and Instagram (@cnmigov.economy), or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Sablan is vice president of Triple J Enterprises, Inc. and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. As an advisory council for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, the GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the Marianas for all residents.