Gov. Ralph DLG Torres outlined his administration’s plans for the Commonwealth’s future in his second State of the Commonwealth Address last Friday at the Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe, while at the same time reminding people of the contrast between the CNMI more than 10 yeas ago and its present condition.
Of the many accomplishments Torres cited in his speech, the government settling its arrears with the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. made the biggest impression (See story on Page 2).
“For the first time in decades, your central government settled its arrears with CUC. …Eliminating over $1.9 million in arrears will enable CUC to reinvest these revenues towards critical water infrastructure to meet our goal of providing 24-hour water service to our people,” he said.
Torres said his administration would work on implementing a comprehensive plan in managing the projects on the islands once the newly created Office of Planning and Development completes that plan.
He said that a retiree, a small business owner, a Northern Marianas College nursing graduate, a high school teacher, a CNMI native with a college degree in the U.S., and families in the Commonwealth have all seen the progress that helped the Commonwealth get out of its financial troubles.
“In homes across the Marianas, fathers will tuck their kids in for bed after a long, tiring day, and have big dreams for their sons and daughters. Today in the Marianas, every single person who calls these islands home is who makes the state of our Commonwealth strong. And together we have made great progress,” said Torres, who was interrupted 41 times by applause from the packed crowd.
He said the CNMI experienced one of the fastest economic gains in the country in 2016, the same year that the Commonwealth’s gross domestic product “surpassed the $1-billion mark” for the first time in more than 10 years. He added that the CNMI’s 27,592-strong labor force, based on data collected at the end of last year, was composed 54 percent of U.S. citizens.
“All these workers are supporting a strengthening tourism industry as our visitor arrivals, recently surpassing half a million last month for the third straight year. [Since we took office in 2015], small business confidence is at an all-time high, with 2,560 new businesses opening up. These small businesses are driving our growth in key areas, creating increased funding for education, healthcare, and public safety,” said Torres.
He said that great things could be achieved if done as one. “Our deficit has reduced by more than half, 53.7 percent, in just the last year alone. Our people now have stronger financial security with more money to save up for the important things like healthcare, our children’s college education, and rewriting their stories for success.”
Torres said tourism continues to be the CNMI’s No. 1 industry. “As we accept and accommodate visitors from abroad, we inject new money into the system with each tourism dollar reaching the hands of every resident in one way or another. Tourism keeps the rain pouring and the flow has been steady.”
Torres said they are looking to focus more on quality tourists. “For the third year in a row, we have welcomed more than 500,000 tourists. While we are excited that visitor arrivals have remained high, we must not focus on quantity alone. We must preserve and also improve our islands as a destination. A tourist experience in the CNMI should rival any in the world.”
“But we cannot just wish for it to be so. If we want to provide a high quality tourism experience, we need to improve capacity and services.”
He added that he believes in the 30-30-30 tourism principle. “Thirty percent Japan, 30 percent Korea, and 30 percent China. We have a lot of work to do to meet this goal.”
Torres said the Marianas Visitors Authority has helped improve the CNMI’s image internationally, but air travel has become an issue. He sees strategic partnerships as one of the keys in the future of the CNMI. “We are a wonderful but small market for global companies, so in the near term we must form smart and strategic airline partnerships to service our islands. I am proud to announce that the CNMI has succeeded in our goal of restoring flight service from Japan through a partnership with Skymark Airlines.”
“Skymark Airlines is Japan’s third largest carrier and will be the first Japan-based carrier in the CNMI since 2005, when Japan Airlines left. …Narita direct to Saipan will resume this coming winter schedule.”
Torres said the pull out of Delta and Cape Air are setbacks for the CNMI, but the Commonwealth must try to adapt to changes.
Click here for the complete text of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ State of the Commonwealth Address. View Document