HAWAII ECONOMY LOOKS TO $700 MILLION SURPLUS

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 7) – While most Pacific islands struggle with the constant rise in fuel prices, Hawaii is projecting a budget surplus of US$700 million this year and a visitor arrival rate of more than 7 million.

Hawaii State Sen. J. Kalani English, who chairs the state Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and International Affairs, described their state’s economy as "robust" and in fact "overheated" which is why the nation’s youngest state is facing a shortage of workers.

"We are facing a worker shortage because our economy is robust right now. We’re running out of workers. Our unemployment is 2.5 percent —the lowest that it’s been. We have an overheated economy and because of that we’re starting to import workers. They are mostly coming from North America," said English in an interview.

Among the 12 members of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures, the Federated States of Micronesia [FSM] appears to be having the worst economic problems with no reliable industry to support its needs.

English said FSM citizens are welcome to migrate to Hawaii or any parts of the U.S. as part of their Compact agreement with America.

He said while it is true that some Micronesians burden the insular governments of Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Marianas, American Samoa and U.S Virgin Islands, there are many Micronesians who contribute a lot to those economies.

In Hawaii, English said there are 8,000 FSM citizens who are mostly employed.

"Too often, we only hear the bad side of it. But there are very productive Micronesians in Hawaii. They own businesses and restaurants. They contribute a lot to our workforce. They are very valuable," said English.

"In Maui, for instance, we have a lot of pineapple fields and our pineapple industry would not be able to survive without them. If Micronesians want to contribute their skills, especially in the construction industry or the hotel industry, because we have a workers’ shortage right now, they can come," he added.

The minimum wage in Hawaii is US$5.75 an hour, slightly higher than the federal rate of US$5.15.

English said Hawaii’s minimum wage rate is soon going to increase to help workers keep up with the state’s high cost of living.

"The problem is the cost of living is so high. Housing is very expensive. Food is very expensive. The cheapest housing that I found when I went to Honolulu for the session was US$1,200 a month for a one-bedroom or a studio. If you go to a 2-bedroom it’s maybe US$2,000," he said.

June 7, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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