SKY IS CLEARING ON CLOUDY GUAM ECONOMY

Commentary

By Joe Murphy

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 7) - I was driving into Hagåtña the other day when suddenly the clouds above me drifted away and I saw an incredible patch of blue sky. The volcanic haze that was giving the island so much trouble had blown away, at least temporarily.

I decided this was very symbolic for Guam. Things, especially economic things, may have turned around.

It has been a long dry period, since the 1990s, when a huge development was taking place up at LeoPalace. They were talking then about a billion-dollar development there.

But something funny happened to the Japanese economy and that, mixed with a bad plane crash on Guam, the 9-11 attacks, the Iraq war, the SARS epidemic and a couple of terrible typhoons put us in a hole that was very difficult to extricate ourselves from. We kept looking for those blue skies, but clouds seemed to cover them for years.

Let me count the ways that the economy is getting better.

The Guam International Airport reported an increase in profits of $2.3 million for the 2004 year, compared to 2003, which saw a loss of more than $16 million.

Passenger arrivals for Guam last year increased by 28 percent, from 1.2 million in 2003 to 1.5 million arrivals in 2004. Not only that, but the airport became aggressive in pursuing federal funding and has grant agreements in excess of $21 million for capital projects, including the lengthening of a runway.

The island finally got off the dime in picking a site -- Dandan -- for the new landfill. While the people in the south are not happy about the proposed site, it is something that has to be done. It is expected that this new landfill will cost in excess of $100 million in total. They are shooting for a 2007 opening, and at last closing the Ordot dump.

Probably the most encouraging piece of business on Guam is the announced build-up of the island's military infrastructure. The Air Force had previously told of $100 million in construction contracts that should be awarded this year. The Navy, too, is planning on a good deal of construction and additional berthing of ships here.

The problem that will be created by all this construction, of course, is the old Guam bugaboo -- we'll need to import foreign workers to do the jobs. We used to have several thousand alien workers in days past, but they have mostly gone away. It would be nice if those jobs went to local people, but I don't think you can count on that happening.

The civilian community can't be ignored in this construction boom either. It was just announced that five auditorium theaters will be built in the Agana Shopping Center by a firm called Tango Theaters, at a cost of $150,000 apiece. The Agana Shopping Center is in the process of a complete. To me, the whole center looks great. They have done a nice job in reconstruction.

Work is now under way at the University of Guam. A new Jesus S. and Eugenia A. Leon Guerrero School of Business and Public Administration building is being erected on the campus. The old "A" and "B" buildings have already been torn down. The university is, of course, a key player in the resurgence of Guam.

When we talk about kick-starting Guam's economy, there are other avenues of capital coming to the island. If we privatized, or floated bonds for the improvement of the island's water system, we're talking of spending more than $100 million in pipe laying and construction.

We're also planning on building several new schools, and not just the government of Guam, but the military as well.

The new owners of Guam's telephone system are going to be spending big bucks in the years immediately ahead to upgrade the telephone system and get into the TV aspect of the industry.

And some day, with a little luck, and a lot of politics, Guam's residents will receive their war claims, which will infuse more millions into what should be a red-hot Guam economy.

Looking at the big picture, I find myself in a debate of sorts. I don't know if I want to learn how to run a bulldozer or a crane. I do know that we're going to need a lot of skilled people to do both in the years immediately ahead.

February 7, 2005

Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News. Write him at jomurph@netpci.com.

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

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