Velma Palacios takes helm of Chamber


New leaders of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce were sworn in at Fiesta Resort and Spa last Saturday.

IT&E’s Velma Palacios is replacing Alex Sablan who served the last three years as president. Sablan will serve the Chamber’s board this year as its secretary.

Vice president of the board is Chris Concepcion of Delta Airlines and Deloitte & Touche’s Mike Johnson will serve as treasurer.

Other members of the board are Natalie Mable Ayuyu of Re/Max Realty, Wayne Gillespie of Kaynomi Enterprises, Triple J’s Perry Inos Jr., and CE Bud White who was off-island.

They were sworn in by Superior Court Associate Judge David Wiseman.

In his outgoing speech, Sablan paid tribute to the late governor Eloy S. Inos. Aside from calling on members of the Chamber to take a more active role in their committees, Sablan also took the opportunity to reiterate the need to address the needs of the Commonwealth particularly when it comes to labor and workforce

Sablan said that over 18,500 employees will be required just for hotel and casino development alone—not including Tinian’s requirement.

“With a quota of 11,999 CW visas and roughly 1,600 remaining up for grabs, it’ll be tough to realistically believe we can fill the remaining 15,000 estimated workforce with Micronesians, Guamanians, and mainlanders,” Sablan said.

Sablan said these are the reasons why the Chamber has asked for the CNMI’s lobbying effort in Washington, D.C. to begin sooner to ensure U.S. Congress understands what’s at stake in the CNMI.

While Sablan said that the CW visa will be needed beyond the 2019 expiration of the program, it is also needed to follow the law and transition skilled workers who are CW visa holders to H-visa.

“This measure has many wins. First it follows the spirit of the CNRA law that CW visas are for non-skilled vocations not classified in the H-visa system, second it provides prevailing wage so that U.S. Citizens that vie for these positions have a decent wage,” Sablan said, “And third, when no U.S. citizen can be found for the position it provides the foreign national worker a decent wage that commensurate with their credentials.”

In her incoming president’s speech, Palacios also stated the issues in the community that they have to address including the workforce.

“While we’ve made some progress, we’re going to push hard this year to build in the success of 2015, to aggressively move things forward and work in partnership with the administration, the Legislature, and our U.S. representative in Congress. We will work on collecting data required to make our case about our workforce requirements,” Palacios said.

Palacios also said that she will continue on growing the number of the Chamber’s membership which has been steadily increasing in 2015.

“I am incredibly excited for the year and look forward to working closely with you,” Palacios said.

The Chamber also recognized outgoing board member Ron Smith who was given a plaque of appreciation.

“Ron has been a very valuable member of the board,” Sablan said.

Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon | Reporter
Frauleine Michelle S. Villanueva was a broadcast news producer in the Philippines before moving to the CNMI to pursue becoming a print journalist. She is interested in weather and environmental reporting but is an all-around writer. She graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Journalism and was a sportswriter in the student publication.

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