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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Economic resurrection

CNMI economy sees phenomenal growth

Saipan— The buzzing sound of the sewing machines fell silent. The lights in the tourist district of Garapan went out. The demise of the garment industry in 2009 and the decline in tourism following the federal takeover in 2008 resulted in an economic apocalypse and turned the main island of Saipan into a sleepy town. That year saw the CNMI’s economic growth at negative 17.5 percent. Barely was the economy recovering than the supertyphoon Soudelor plowed through the commonwealth islands in 2015, shattering buildings and other infrastructures that cost an estimated $20 million in damage.

It didn’t take long for the CNMI to emerge from the rubble. Its economy spiraled to 28.6 percent in 2016, reflecting a phenomenal growth from 3.87 percent in 2015.

The commonwealth’s gross domestic product hit $1.24 billion in 2016, from $933 million the year before, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis by the Department of Commerce. The CNMI’s economic growth was attributed the private fixed investment increased over 60 percent in 2016, reflecting construction of the casino resort in Garapan and other hotel construction on Saipan to accommodate the growth of tourism. The number of visitors to the CNMI grew over 10 percent, primarily reflecting an increase in visitor arrivals from Korea and China, according to the report.

The bulk of tourist spending on casino gambling at the old Best Sunshine facility at the Galeria Building, which moved this year to the Imperial Pacific International in Garapan. By far Saipan’s largest private company with 1,500 employees, IPI said it has invested $200 million into the CNMI economy. Taking the place of the dead garment business, the casino industry has emerged as the new milk cow for the government, amid the resentment of its moral watchdogs.

“2009 wasn’t too long ago, and I know we all remember those days. Our tourism industry was struggling, large and small businesses were struggling, but more importantly, many of our friends and families were struggling to make ends meet. But now we see an economy that has provided more opportunities for everyone,” CNMI Gov.Ralph DLG. Torres. The CNMI’s economic transformation from its sorry state in 2009, the governor said, “is truly a testament to a collective effort between the private sector, our government, and really our entire community.”

New construction projects are in the pipeline, but the commonwealth is facing a labor deficit with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services reaching the CW cap for 2018. Amid the fast-tracked progress, the commonwealth now contends with keeping up with its astounding growth and assessing how much development it can handle.

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