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Effort mandated as part of federalization law

By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 3, 2009) – Two ranking officials of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Washington office are on island amid plans to gather more economic data about the CNMI, including determining for the first time its gross domestic product or GDP.

Lee R. Wentela, chief of the bureau’s economic census branch, and Charles A. Funk, assistant division chief of the company statistics division, said they expect some CNMI data to be used by the General Accountability Office — the investigating body of the U.S. Congress — in future studies that it will release.

A GAO economic study is mandated to determine the impact of the federalization law as well as the mandatory yearly 50-cent increase on the islands’ hourly minimum wage until 2015.

Next week, another group of visiting officials from the Bureau of Economic Assessment is expected to arrive on Saipan for a separate project.

A separate branch of the U.S. Census will also conduct a population study on the islands next year.

The last U.S. Census done in 2000 reported there were 69,000 people in the CNMI.

The Department of Commerce said a population count made in 2005 indicated that the population was 65,000.

Due to the closure of the garment industry and the exodus of guest workers and locals, this number is expected to further decline.

Wentela said part of their project is the 2012 Economic Census.

They will also begin reporting annually on payroll in the CNMI, which covers only the private sector.

The two visiting officials said the GDP project will give the CNMI more useful data in tackling its economic and social issues in the future.

"The economic census that we produce is conducted every five years whereas the GDP is estimated on an annual basis. It gives you a quicker marker of how things have changed but to conduct an economic census on an annual basis is really cost prohibitive for us and takes time to mail out return, analyze the data and produce results," said Funk.

"The primary benefit to the islands is that the GDP would be a timely measure and it would show you what the changes are on a quicker basis," he added.

Wentela, who has been sent on assignment to the CNMI thrice, said they assume that the team that will conduct the GDP study will consult with them.

"We don’t actually know what our role would be in that GDP. We assume that there’s going to be consulting with the folks that would be doing that and see what they would need from us," he said.

Wentela and Funk were involved in the 2007 CNMI Economic Census.

Among the significant findings of their report released in March 2009 are:

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