Small businesses front and center on 2nd day of confab


The second day panel discussions of the first-ever 2016 Business and Finance Conference of the CNMI at Saipan World Resort last Friday included topics that talked about small businesses and how they are to thrive in the upswinging CNMI economy.

Owner and manager of Kalayaan Inc. Eleanor Alinas opened with small businesses being the heart and soul of the economy.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy and the cornerstone of the community, as quoted by President Barack Obama. We are out there really employing the people in the community,” said Alinas.

Focused on the available resources of the CNMI, Alinas assures local businessmen that securing a loan from the bank is beneficial to the business in the long run.

“I talked about many of the available resources in the CNMI. I am a recipient of one such resource, such as the SSBCI (State Small Business Credit initiative) funding that they have been talking about since yesterday (Thursday),” said Alinas. “It gives me a chance to expand and diversify my business, and that is what I wanted to share to all the business owners. The programs that [the government] has in place to support the small businesses are there, and that they actually work.”

Alinas said that small businesses need to concentrate on the financials in order to secure a loan from the bank easily.

“As small business owners we have to work toward getting to the point where banks will trust us,” said Alinas. “The first thing that small business owners need to do is strengthen their financial position here in the CNMI. We’re talking about making sure that they allot something for savings. Insurance is very important, and obviously you have to know where the business is headed,” shared Alinas.

She also said that with a goal in mind, banks are more confident with entrusting a loan for wise business decisions.

“If you are able to share your goals with your banker, if you understand exactly what you are asking for, your banker will see that. You should also be able to prove that financially, because in the end, it’s all about finances. Being able to manage your financials is a very helpful way for bankers to give you a loan.”

Audience members asked the panel on issues such as the upcoming minimum wage hike. Alinas shared with Saipan Tribune that she thinks it is too soon.

“Honestly, I think that this is a move that has not really been thought of well, where the smaller businesses have not really been taken into consideration. We know that the intention is good and I really applaud the government for taking the initial steps toward that, but it’s too much too soon,” she said.

Alinas also touched on the point that business goals are not only profit, but also sustainment. “As a business, you’re goal is to be there as long as possible. We have a lot of families that are reliant on our business, so longevity is a big part of our goals.”

Carmen Safeway Enterprises president Frances Borja raised a few points that benefit small businesses.

“Stricter enforcement of tax laws. We are seeing a lot of business activities on Saipan and there are under reporting or misrepresenting their revenues, along with not paying the proper taxes to the businesses that they’re doing,” shared Borja. “We have seen a proliferation of a lot of apartment buildings converted to bed-and-breakfast guest houses and short-term rentals,” she said. Borja explained that while the nature of business changed, the taxes being payed are different.

Borja’s second point is to take advantage of online convenience for an increase on efficiency. Borja wishes that the government starts to invest in online forms. “[Suggests that] the government invest in e-commerce and to have Internet access where we can go online and make applications for payments such as taxes and driver’s licenses, and even permits,” she said. “So that we do not have to stand in long lines that affects both the productivity of the government and the private sector workers. It works both ways to cut down on the time that we have to stand in line,” said Borja.

Stellar Marianas president Laila Boyer said that the economy in the CNMI is definitely improving and the small businesses on island are definitely feeling it.

“The climate of the economy is definitely changing for the better here. We have all kind of weathered the storm and coming out of it, it is picking up. We have seen the trickling effect happening to all of the businesses,” said Boyer.

She also mentioned that the whole point of the panel discussion was to encourage people to become entrepreneurs.

“One of the emphasis that I really like about today’s panel is trying to promote the culture of entrepreneurship, getting more and more people getting into businesses.”

Boyer wishes to see Saipan becoming one of the main business districts in the Pacific.

“We have a lot of talent and creativity. Coming from this part of the world we are kind of forced to be creative about a lot of things that we do, so it would be a natural fit for us to be an incubator for a lot of businesses to start up,” said Boyer.

Boyer acknowledges that prosperity always comes with a price, sometimes one that is too valuable to lose.

“Economic development definitely brings change, and one of them is also the gradual loss of tradition and culture. As a destination, we could turn that around and emphasize that it continues as part of the CNMI experience and encourage more businesses to incorporate that into their business culture,” said Boyer.

The first ever 2016 BCF CNMI was hosted by a partnership composed of the Bank of Guam, Commonwealth Development Authority, and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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