About 30 U.S. mainland business leaders will head for Micronesia in May to get a firsthand look at business opportunities in the islands.

Group members will visit Hawaii Guam the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau as the Island Business Opportunities Mission sponsored by the Office of Insular Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The mission is the latest move by the office to encourage investment in the islands and follows two stateside investment conferences one in New York in October 2003 and one in Los Angeles in September.

Keith A. Parsky policy and public affairs specialist in the Office of Insular Affairs told the Journal “The two conferences have borne fruit and the mission is attracting stateside attention. This can be seen by the efforts of the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority’s effort in mounting a conference at the end of March (See “Commerce groups organize promising look at economy” on Page 7) and in the interest we are receiving.”

He said the department was presently accepting applications for the mission from stateside companies.

“The analysis of which companies will be asked to come on the mission will be forthcoming. It is too early to give any particulars on who has applied and will be coming. The islands have formed committees that will be evaluating the applications.”

Lynn Scarlett deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior and David B. Cohen deputy assistant secretary at the office will lead the mission. Participants will meet in Hawaii May 12. Dates for the mission are presently May 14 to 16 in Guam May 17 in Saipan and May 17 to 20 in Palau.

Gerald S.A. Perez administrator of the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority told the Journal the initiative was “aimed at U.S. companies levering off our proximity to Asia ” and the mission involved significant planning.

“We have been working very closely with David Cohen and his people to beat the bushes and help invite potential investors who would help us diversify Guam’s economy beyond the tourism and military components.”

He said the office had spurred recognition of the islands in the U.S. mainland. “They’ve been very helpful in organizing the last two conferences and generating the level of interest that puts Guam and other territories on the radar screen. What we are doing now is honing in a lot more specifically to key industry sectors that fit well with the diversification initiative that we are currently working on.”

Perez said diversification included financial services regional offices for U.S. companies doing business or contemplating doing business in Asia headquarters for regional distribution and supply chain management and film production.

“DHL is already here. The Max Havoc film is not the end product. It’s the means to an end to create employment opportunities in using Guam as a venue for commercials production. Japan and Korea in the past have had a problem with immigration. We are trying to develop the local capacity to supply logistics people sound and light people set design and all the other issues. We’re using Max Havoc as the project that would help the community coalesce the training and assembly of talent that can be used for people that come to Guam to film commercials.”

Perez sounded a note of caution. “This is not going to be an easy task. There are regulatory issues infrastructure and manpower issues. If this becomes a significant piece of our economy it can provide many jobs. The Department of the Interior has funded us with some technical assistance money so we can engage consultants to help us go through that process.”

The Northern Mariana Islands attracted interest in a variety of industries. Peter Callaghan press secretary to Gov. Juan N. Babauta told the Journal “The major players we attracted at the L.A. conference are from the film industry where we are still working on a proposal to build post-production studios in the CNMI; the health-care industry — several firms would like to use the CNMI as an NCLEX [National Council Licensure Examination] study center to fast-track foreign medical professionals on getting U.S. certified and then visas to practice in the U.S.; power companies; some farming interest; and a company wanting to build a dry-dock facility.”

The U.S. administration’s facilitation had been a major stimulus Callaghan said. “Obviously OIA’s interest and support has made much of this possible. We feel that the Bush/Norton/Cohen team is taking the right approach to making island governments and economies more self-sufficient.”

Palau’s leaders would encourage investment there and look forward to welcoming mission participants.

Billy G. Kuartei chief of staff to President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. said “It’s a good idea because we want investments — in tourism infrastructure development technology and financial services agriculture — these are all key areas for us; so we’re interested in having them come. The United States companies are most welcome.”

Cohen came to the Office of Insular Affairs with two main goals: improving fiscal performance and increasing economic opportunities. Parsky said “By providing direct technical assistance and training from OIA staff and consultants insular areas have been able to complete numerous financial statements and reports that had been outstanding for years.” Parsky said procedures are being developed that monitor federal grants implement of the OIA financial assistance manual and aid in completion of insular area financial statements and audits.

— Nancy Chism contributed to this article.