Friday, January 6, 2023
As we begin this new year, it is natural to look ahead and envision what kind of year 2023 will be, what changes it will usher in, and how we as residents will see progress for our home. Often people ask the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers (GCEA) for thoughts on the future of the Marianas and how the next year will be different from the last. These conversations are more critical because we are still recovering from an unprecedented global pandemic, and there is no playbook to guide how recovery should look.
After years of uncertainty over whether our families will be safe, whether assistance will arrive, or whether the economy that we rely upon for our livelihoods will return, we all have been focused on the question of what will come next. I have found that through it all, the answers to these questions come not from a crystal ball, but from the things we all have within our islands and within ourselves.
Through our collective efforts from throughout the Marianas, we have pulled together the skills, passions, and motivation we collectively possessed to make it through. I am proud of GCEA’s efforts over these last few years to lend a hand in crafting where we are today. Just like many from across our community, our group of private sector leaders came together to provide our voices on decisions related to the resumption of commercial activity, the restart of the tourism industry, and using this time to attempt a transformation of our public sites.
Community organizations did their part as well. Through the launching of the Public Private Partnership initiative and programs like Marianas Village, Business and School Pride, our community and our youth have recaptured ownership over our future. I do not doubt that 2023 will be strengthened by this same commitment to our islands that was within us already. As we look at what the next year in the great story of the Marianas will bring, I feel it’s important to review ourselves today as the best measurement for the reaches we can achieve ahead.
This year will mark the strength of our democracy, with the highly anticipated inauguration of Governor Arnold I. Palacios and Lt. Governor David M. Apatang. On behalf of GCEA, we celebrate and congratulate Governor Palacios on his successful campaign to lead our islands through this new chapter in our history and know that his leadership built upon years of public service and compassion for our people will provide the foundation for renewed prosperity in the years ahead. This leadership will be facing some of the most significant challenges our islands have faced. Some are familiar – we have not reached pre-pandemic levels of tourism arrivals, many businesses still struggle to adjust to the impacts of the pandemic, and many individuals still struggle to resume employment and income as a result. However, GCEA and the wider community remain committed to our unified pursuit of recovery, and success in tackling these challenges is at our doorstep.
There are new challenges with the eventual phasing out of federal assistance in 2023 and the need to see true diversity in our economy to assist the Marianas in better managing global crises. Again, in meeting these new challenges of our day, we must recognize the tools we already possess. Our economy, while still working its way toward recovery, has seen a revitalization in entrepreneurship and the wealth of ideas and skills that individuals are willing to devote within the private sector to create memorable experiences for our visitors and support economic activity. We only need to fan the flames of these passions as they have the motivation and willingness to make success work here at home. We have the foundations for business retention and diversification in the newly created Commonwealth Economic Development Authority which has within it the tools necessary to chart our path toward even greater levels of growth and prosperity across existing and new industries.
And through it all, Governor Palacios and Lt. Governor Apatang will be leading a Marianas full of individuals and organizations who have dedicated their time and efforts to the single cause of taking pride in these islands we call home. It has been an incredible honor to have worked alongside the 103 organizations that have signed on to five-year agreements to improve and maintain 123 sites across Rota, Tinian, and Saipan. They continue their work weekly to beautify our islands for residents and visitors alike. Even further, this year will see the expansion of these efforts to our schools and businesses. They have learned firsthand the benefits of taking ownership in upgrading, revitalizing, and improving life at the village level.
As we enter into this year of new possibilities and hope for the Marianas, we can take strength in knowing that whatever the year has in store for us, we have the talent, motivation, and passion for these islands that will see us reach even greater heights. This is the lesson of these past years: whatever comes our way, we can overcome the challenges through individuals, community, and democracy that remain stronger than ever.
There is much work to do. We will build upon the recent successes within the tourism sector through the TRIP program and air service options like those provided by United Airlines' direct service from Japan and Marianas Southern Airways’ multi-island services to Tinian, Rota, and Guam. We will pursue diversification through CEDA and the evolving interest in the region from American investors seeking growth in a post-pandemic world. We will see new ideas and solutions come forward to recognize the unique labor challenges faced by the Marianas’ economy. And we will make progress toward GCEA’s two long-standing missions of developing the Marianas to become a world-class destination and improving the standard of living for residents on all islands. We can do accomplish these things because I believe we have proven that GCEA’s motto is the guidance for the years ahead that truly, Together, We Can.
By Jerry Tan
Jerry Tan is a recognized entrepreneur, employer, and passionate advocate for volunteerism and giving back to the community. He serves as the GCEA’s Co-Chairman, an advisory council to the Governor. The GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the Marianas for all residents.