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Could give Marianas a ‘jumpstart’

By Stefan Sebastian

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 1, 2008) - Legislation is on its way to President Bush’s desk that will lead to the inclusion of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in a U.S. Department of Defense program that could give the local government and businesses a major economic jumpstart through federal grants ahead of the pending military buildup in Guam, Resident Representative Pete A. Tenorio said Wednesday.

"I’ve wanted this for a while," Tenorio said during a stop on Saipan to campaign for his election as the CNMI’s non-voting House delegate. "Now it’s on the way to the president for his signature."

In an interview after a meeting of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Tenorio said the bill would bring the CNMI and the U.S. Virgin Islands into the scope of the work done by the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment, which is tasked with assisting communities impacted by changes in the department’s policies or practices. According to literature from the office, its work consists of providing technical assistance, grants and help with advanced planning.

Guam is already taking part in the office’s programs, Tenorio said, and as the island gears up for the arrival of more than 8,000 Marines from Okinawa, Japan, in the near future, the federal grant money it is receiving could prove crucial to small businesses.

"This is good for us because it enables the local government and the private sector within the community to take advantage of grants being offered by various agencies that are tied to federal activities," said Tenorio. "It provides for participation of the local government and the business community so they can be eligible to take on grants that are military activities related."

The military buildup in Guam is expected to impact the nearby islands of Pagan and Tinian, which may become the site of training activities, armed forces officials previously said. Should the legislation gain Bush’s approval that could clear the way for local businesses to take advantage of the military’s arrival.

"This is the first time we’re getting into this," said Tenorio. "If there are projects on Tinian, for example, that are being put up by the military then the local government and local entrepreneurs will be able to work with the agencies from the federal government to get grants and technical assistance so they can prepare themselves to bid on certain projects."

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