Editor’s note: John W. Scragg is president and CEO of JWS Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Ltd. Guam, a company he started in 1972, and its Saipan counterpart, JWS Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Ltd. He is also the CEO of JWS Holdings.

Scragg was born in Whakatane, New Zealand and first worked with his father in his father’s workshop. At 15 years old, he left home to complete a five-year apprenticeship with McAlpine Hussmann, a commercial refrigeration and air conditioning service in Auckland, where he earned his journeyman certification in thermal dynamics.

He arrived on Guam in the early 1970s, working with Fletcher Construction, and eventually started his own company in 1972.


Q: With people spending more time inside at the office, or at home — particularly with their families due to COVID-19, are air-conditioning environments becoming more important than ever?

A: Yes. It is important. However, it still remains an individual’s choice to have or not. One thing to consider though is the use of ultra-violate light systems. UV systems are not the solution however they do have a multiplicity of advantages not only improving the health quality of the air within a conditioned space. Conditioned spaces can either be a boon (good for you) or a bust (bad for you).  The truth is that the systems are good for you with the UV lights to kill the bacteria, viruses, and pollutants in the air.

One thing of note is the high use of wall mounted mini splits which do not have the ability to replace air (fresh air intake).  Mini splits simply recirculate existing air.  A filtered fresh air intake system helps improve indoor air quality by diluting polluted or stale indoor air, pressurizes the zone to help keep pollutants out of the air, and helps reduce the recirculation of air to maintain healthy indoor air quality. 

Q: How has this sudden and deep downturn in Guam — and Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands — affected your businesses and your commercial and military clients?

A: Our business has been affected, particularly with the hospitality industry, all through out from office spaces, to retail, to restaurants, etc. Our military customers have reduced their inquiries of late, however our ongoing military projects continue forward, thankfully.

Q: You have been a small business owner since 1972 and survived various economic crises in the islands. Is this — to date — the worst of them so far?

A: I’d have to say no. There have been other, more challenging events. Although this crisis will have long term and far reaching effects on our business.

Q: What practical measures and strengths are you drawing on now to get you through the present COVID-19 challenges?

A: One strength we are drawing on is to help our island breath cleaner air. We do this by ensuring proper maintenance is done on air conditioning units throughout the island. We are also sharing our knowledge to help keep the community informed.

Q: The federal government is working on various aid for the states and territories, to include Small Business Administration Loans, FEMA aid and deferment of tax filing until July 15 to aid the U.S. economy. What should the governments of Guam and the NMI do at the local level to help businesses, particularly small ones?

A: With the amount of people currently furloughed or laid off, the local government should consider ways of helping them find gainful employment (even if temporary). As we keep hearing, there is a labor shortage on island. Now is the time to create jobs for those who are in need and put our efforts into the revitalization of the government and the upgrade and maintenance of their facilities.

On the business side, the government should consider the reduction in the Business Privilege Tax.

Q: How has the construction industry and particularly the air-conditioning and refrigeration sector changed through the decades?

A: The current air conditioning systems, however complex, have designs that are always improving but not perfect. They have a multiplicity of components and require constant upgrades. Also, as the evolution of refrigerant laws constantly changed, it often necessitates the need to replace equipment rather than repair, due to the system requirement change to accommodate the new refrigerant. 

Q: What advice would you give to somebody intending to start in the construction industry as you did?

A: My advice would be that they understand this industry is not short term. It’s a long-haul investment in time, money, and energy. Also, small businesses need to be aware of their sub-contract agreements when locking themselves into a project. Subcons can be very onerous, especially when it’s with a mainland contractor who is just starting to get themselves into work here on island. 

Q: How do you typically relieve stress — both in a tense situation and for enjoyment in your leisure time?

A: I try to look through every situation. I try to find the worst-case scenario. Once I’ve understood and accepted what could be the worst case, everything else is a bonus.

Our company is willing to support emotionally the people of our community during these unpredictable times. mbj