CAPITOL HILL Saipan — Citing its “extremely close relations” with the U.S. Australia has initiated talks with the Department of Defense to allow Australian companies take part in Guam’s anticipated construction boom based on the relocation of up to 23 000 U.S. military personnel and their families to the island by 2008.

Corinne Tomkinson Australia’s consul general to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau and the Marshall Islands said that the Australian government is hopeful big Australian construction companies could set up offices on Guam and be involved in the procurement process for the multi-million dollar housing projects required for the relocation.

“We are certainly hoping that the opportunities will be open to Australian companies. The U.S. military has very detailed rules. We are currently discussing that with the U.S. government ” Tomkinson said.

Australia and the U.S. have a long historic military partnership. Australia fought alongside the U.S. during World War II.

Tomkinson said Australia increased its role in providing security in the region with its Navy boats patrolling the waters as part of the global effort against terrorism.

According to Tomkinson this partnership could help bring in Australian construction companies to Guam quid pro quo. “Australia and the U.S. have extremely close relations at all levels close liaison including the military ” she said.

Tomkinson told the Journal Guam would be “challenged to meet the demand” brought about by the required infrastructure development for the relocation. She said a number of Australian companies are keen on the opportunities that Guam’s construction boom offers.

“There is some interest already. But I cannot name companies because it is still early. Australian businesses have started to realize Guam’s potential ” Tomkinson said.

She added that Australian companies see Guam as a “very reliable” place to do business because of the island’s “safe environment.”

Also looking to take part in the construction boom is SSFM International a Hawaii-based company that has operated for the past 14 years on Saipan and opened an office on Guam last December.

Ralph Hayashi SSFM International senior project manager and vice president for the company’s Pacific region operations told the Journal that there are “some very good opportunities on Guam.” He said “We know there will be a lot of growth for companies such as ours with all of the military work that is being programmed for Guam and we look forward to being part of this growth.” (See “Hawaii engineering firm looks to build up project load in Guam” in the May 15 edition of the Journal.)

Construction industry officials contend Guam lacks the needed manpower to sustain the construction boom. Guam continues to explore ways to address the problem once the projects go full swing expectedly by next year.

Sen. Judith T. Won Pat of the 28th Guam Legislature said that Guam should look into the possibility of granting H-2 visas to NMI guest workers to allow them into the construction sites for the duration of the projects. There are approximately 5 000 guest workers in the NMI’s construction sector. (See “Conference highlights Guam’s need for skilled workers” in the June 12 edition of the Journal.)