COVID has taken away so much from economies in the islands, which continue to falter and make weak progress.
Aside from federal pandemic aid — which in Micronesia largely comes from the U.S. government, reasons to have hope lie with the construction industry.
Capt. Timothy Liberatore, commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas told the Journal in December he expects $600 million in construction work to be active under NAVFAC Marianas at its peak in 2003, and that the total amount of construction in Oceania will be about $1.6 billion
The Northern Mariana Islands will receive about $254 million in construction from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds. Not to mention the Tinian Divert Airfield when that RFP reappears.
The Federated States of Micronesia is also seeking contractors for $400 million of capital improvement projects.
Despite years of acknowledging the lack of a local skilled workforce governments and a few companies have made efforts to train residents. It has taken the pandemic and millions of dollars for capital improvements to the islands to underscore the urgent need for workforce development.
Those efforts are ongoing in Guam and in Saipan, but it won’t be enough; labor issues rest with contractors.
Guam is fast-tracking permits for worker housing. In the NMI, officials said permits and plans for recovery will be bundled and simplified.
In the meantime, there is relief as H-2 workers from the Philippines can return since January, and companies will take advantage of that. Guam Department of Labor Officials told the Journal in September estimates for fiscal 2021 were that H-2 workers would double to about 3,000. The number may go higher now. Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres wants the cap for the NMI for construction workers to rise above 3,000.
In the FSM, much of the work will have federal oversight, but the thorn in the FSM’s side and reputation is the lingering issue of payment to Pacific International Inc. for its work on the road in Weno. The matter will come to court on April 8, when the FSM may finally have to abide by the arbitration and clears the debt. mbj