Island communities should not expect investors to arrive with checkbooks and pens in hand

That message will be underlined not only by the Office of Insular Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior but by a consultant hired to support promoting opportunities and make results of investment conferences more widely available.

The Department of the Interior will host a second conference in Los Angeles on Sept. 23 and 24.

The first Investment Development Conference held in Washington D.C. on Sept. 8 2003 was a success said David Cohen deputy assistant secretary for insular affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior despite a feeling in island communities that it had not brought them results. “There is a grant-recipient mentality found with the islands. They say ‘Where is the investment you promised us?’”

The conference was held to encourage businesses to take advantage of economic development opportunities in the insular areas.

Cohen told the Journal on June 17 “Criticism reflects the misunderstanding of how private sector investment works. The idea that new business is presented on a silver platter is never the idea. There is a large planning cycle that goes into any investment. It’s a long process. We will work with island governments to make sure some of these opportunities come to fruition.”

Companies would determine such factors as the cost of doing business in a territory and whether long-term investment had potential for them he said. “The first step has been a lot of activity — a very positive start.”

Ronald H. Leach executive vice president for the West Pacific division of Bank of Hawaii said the 2003 conference was a positive development. “The mentality many times is ‘Those people haven’t come to me.’ We should be asking ‘What are we doing that is allowing us to reach out to people?’”

Bank of Hawaii invested some $20 000 in taking a team to the conference and hosting a lunch. Results Leach said were tangible and the bank would support this year’s conference. “We felt confident it’s money well spent and will do it again. The conferences help us to get together with the right people. We’re starting to see new sources of capital we haven’t seen before — some senior debt lenders who have quite a bit of capital. It’s capital from the U.S. mainland not from Japan this time.”

The bank met with some 20 people at the conference. Leach said “No less than five have made their way to Guam already. We’re seeing some of the fruits of our labor. The GTA [Guam Telephone Authority] bid is a good example of that.” Leach said the interest of three bidders for the privatization of the authority was “directly attributable to the conference.” He said businesses had been interested in opportunities in all regions.

Cohen said the department would be bringing in additional support. “We will be hiring our own consulting firm to track what follow-up occurs after the conference and identify any problems businesses run into — to remove obstacles to outside investment.”

Some ideas such as creating a recycling hub in Guam and developing the Mariana Islands as a potential Olympic training area had come out of the conference Cohen said. “A lot of privatization opportunities posed now or considered now were discussed at the conference.” He said the consulting firm would also make available results of the previous conference.

Leach said Gov. Felix P. Camacho and Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo worked well together in promoting interest in Guam but that the governor and the congresswoman had heavy agendas aside from the conference. “We need some more support — somebody who can put forward the message.”

The locale had been moved to the West Coast to encourage other businesses to attend. Cohen said he would promote it with U.S. chambers of commerce and U.S. export agencies. “The more we do in advance the more productive the conference will be.”

The 2003 conference offered potential investors a chance to “hear about special investment incentives available exclusively in the territories including special tax benefits grant programs and unique flexibility in wages and immigration policies ” according to an invitation sent out from the Department of the Interior. Present were Gale A. Norton secretary of the Interior; governors and members of congress from Guam the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa and the resident representative for the Northern Mariana Islands. A number of federal officials and officials from the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank also attended.

Cohen met with Gov. Felix P. Camacho the board of the Guam Chamber of Commerce Rear Adm. Arthur J. Johnson the U.S. attorney and Filipino and Chinese associations during his Guam visit.

He was in the Mariana Islands to attend World War II 60th anniversary events an environmental conference in Saipan and met with Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Juan N. Babauta on June 19. MBJ