For the Journal

SUSUPE, Saipan — In her welcoming remarks at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting held July 6 at Kanoa Resort Saipan, President Velma Palacios reiterated the unified position taken by the chamber, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Society for Human Resource Management to federal officials in the call for immediate relief and alleviation of the adverse impacts of the CW-1 cap for fiscal 2016.

Palacios said, “I know there is no update yet, and they are still working with [U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services] in a higher level of discussion; I know a lot of businesses affected are really, really concerned about that.”

On critics of the business community not doing enough in hiring local and U.S. workers, she said, “But we have, there are businesses here that continue to create training programs and partnerships to train and hire a local workforce.”

“The other issue, is, of course, the wage. Everyone is saying that most businesses are suppressing the wages here — that’s why we can’t have local residents hired. However, I think that is an untrue statement. I know most businesses here are paying more than $6.05. They want to keep their employees because it’s hard to find employees right now,” Palacios said.

She emphasized the importance of an imported workforce to accommodate the resurging economic activity in the NMI.

“Let’s face it. We still need outside help. We just can’t do it with our local capacity,” she said. “We need immediate relief.”

Department of Commerce Secretary Mark O. Rabauliman and Department of Public Works Secretary James A. Ada were guest speakers at the meeting, with updates on the prevailing wage study and major construction projects, respectively.

Rabauliman talked about the Prevailing Wage and Workforce Assessment Study done in 2012 and 2014.

He mentioned that the 2012 study was a result of private businesses’ efforts to adhere to P.L. 110-229 requirements to hire non-residents using local Northern Mariana Islands prevailing wages and avoiding that of Guam’s and Hawaii’s higher prevailing wages. “PWWAS 2014 was conducted to update PWWAS 2012,” Rabauliman said.

Rabauliman said that to give a report on 2016 prevailing wage would be moot since the wage increase will take effect in October. “[…] It will just obscure the entire data collected,” he said.

He said that in November, the Department of Commerce will do the NMI prevailing wage study.

The collection of Household Income Expenditure survey data commenced on Rota on June 29, in Tinian in July 7 and in Saipan, data collection will commence on July 16, according to the Commerce secretary.

Household Income Expenditure data results can be used by local and federal authorities for policy making decisions as it will contain:

1) Housing data (number of housing units, average rent, telephone and utilities expenditure

2) Population data (estimated population by age, sex, ethnicity, citizenship, language, wage and salaries, educational attainment, employment rates, etc.)

3) Personal expenditures (dollar value of purchases made by NMI households on food items, construction materials, appliances,  remittances, apparel and personal item purchases, insurance, medical costs, home and car loans, etc.)

“The HIES data will be useful for a variety of reasons; it could be used to revise our CNMI GDP,” Rabauliman said.

A total of 36 field data collectors will enumerate 1,200 housing units in Saipan and 200 units each for Tinian and Rota.

Rabauliman added, “A preliminary report will be released at the end of 2016, and a full report will follow by late spring or early summer.

According to Ada of DPW, the NMI is experiencing “massive, monumental” construction development in private and government projects. One project — the third phase of the cross island road improvement in Capitol Hill — he said cost about $6.7 million.

He also mentioned another $1 million cost estimate for various projects in road repairs, water well projects, renovations, demolition, salvaging projects, architects and engineer services for Saipan, Tinian and Rota.

“Also a $13.5 million road project from Kingfisher to Marpi will happen this year,” he said. “For Tinian and Rota, an additional $3 million will be used for various road construction projects,” he added.

The DPW secretary also reported that his divisions issued 211 building permits, 1,204 certificates of occupancy, 2,040 residential construction inspections and 2,484 commercial construction inspections. Mbj

Mark O. Rabauliman and Jill Arenovski

Northern Mariana Islands Department of Commerce Secretary Mark O. Rabauliman with Jill Arenovski, executive director of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, at a July 6 general membership meeting of the chamber.

Photo by Bryan Manabat