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Bank of Guam among tenants

By Maureen N. Maratita

KOLONIA Pohnpei (Marianas Business Journal, Sept. 29, 2008) – A major new shopping center in Pohnpei, designed by Von Watson Architects, will host Kolonia's branch of Bank of Guam, among other tenants.

Robert A. Etscheit Jr., vice president of True Value, speaking for Etscheit Enterprises, told the Journal the value of the center is at between US$6 million and US$8 million. He said the new 130,000-square-foot Pohnpei Shopping Center would allow for the group's growth and modernization, and host additional tenants. Construction will be performed by the group's Ace Construction, which is not connected with the Ace Hardware franchise in the Federated States of Micronesia.

"The buildings will be modern - something that is not necessarily seen around the island ... with dropped ceilings, better lighting something that has a bit more of an architectural feel to it," Etscheit said.

Michael W. Nahowolaa, vice president and regional manager of the outer island branches for Bank of Guam, told the Journal the Bank of Guam building would be about 3,000 square feet and possibly a little larger than the bank's existing facility.

In addition to the Bank of Guam, the center will include a number of Etscheit businesses and at least one possible partnership for the gas station. Group businesses will include a warehouse for material and supplies, temporarily housing equipment for the building's construction equipment, which he said will be "double the size of our current warehouse," as well as an A-1 grocery store. "The Ace Commercial Center is about 5,000 square feet. We've kind of outgrown that over 30 years." That new facility will be about 20,000 square feet.

"The grocery will be relocated. Some of our little shops in Kolonia will be relocated. A1 Fabric & Tailoring Shop will also move in; Hi-Tech Electronics also. "The main purpose was to expand," he said. "We will have a building for the grocery store - 20,000 square foot - about four times bigger. We also plan on putting in a gas station - nothing fancy - but what we have now is an old-fashioned pump. ... We're still sourcing out possibilities on the [new] pumps.

"We're lucky enough to have the bank - Bank of Guam. We pitched them the idea; they seemed to enjoy it." He said the bank had been looking for new premises in Kolonia. "We're not designing the bank. We're simply the landlords."

Additional offerings are likely, Etscheit said. "As a new venture we're thinking a nice restaurant will complement the facility. It's a semi-new venture for us. We've done small eateries, but not a restaurant. "We're still throwing out ideas. We have a small bakery [SP Bakery]. We're hoping to move that into the grocery."

The facility will be built in more than one phase, he said.

Opening for the first phase of Pohnpei Shopping Center - Bank of Guam and the gas station - he said, was presently moving forward.

"We originally targeted 18 months, but it might be a little bit longer. It depends how quickly we can manage the first construction phase. Right now the field has been graded; the foundations have been started."

Nahowolaa said in about a year the bank would finalize its own plans on size, which would determine additional employees. "By that time we'll see." However, he said, "We'll provide the people of Pohnpei with a better facility for their banking services."

Pohnpei Shopping Center, which will be in Net town, is likely to be popular, Etscheit said. "I think it will work for everyone. It will definitely attract people to that location."

Etscheit's Enterprises also includes Pohnpei Cinemas, House of Travel, Ace Construction, Etscheit's Farm, rental homes - Etscheit Housing, and A-1

Handicraft souvenirs.

Robert Etscheit Sr., Etscheit's father, who passed away in 1996 was instrumental in development of the group businesses - in operation since 1949, though Etscheit said his uncle, Leo Etscheit was the driving force. Etscheit's mother, Agnes, is the president of the company. Etscheit's seven siblings work side-by-side with him in managing the businesses.

Despite a reportedly difficult business climate in Pohnpei for foreign investors or partners, Etscheit said he welcomed approaches from businesses and organizations willing to do business with Etscheit in Pohnpei.

"Everybody who's doing business on the island is always looking for an affordable source of savings they can pass on to their customers. It would give us an edge in terms of good supplies and prices. We've always entertained anybody who came."

Bank of Guam, which has a branch in Weno in Chuuk, will also be adding additional outlets in the FSM. "The establishment of branches in Yap and Kosrae is in our expansion plans. I don't have a tentative date," Nahowolaa said. "It's an ongoing process right now."

Bank of Guam has had a presence in the FSM since the early 80s, he said. "We're trying to be a good business partner and neighbor."

The bank has five branches in theNorthern Mariana Islands - three in Saipan, plus a branch in Tinian and one in Rota. It also has a branch in Koror, Palau; and one in Majuro in the Marshall Islands. "We have ATMs in the islands also," Nahowolaa said. MBJ

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