Marianas Business Journal

HAGATNA, Guam (July 5, 2010) – As the reality of the billions of dollars to be spent on the military buildup on Guam draws nearer, it might be useful to remember what the military presence on Guam has meant to the economic development of the island since World War II. In short, it has resulted in a standard of living - conveniences, services and economic prosperity - higher than that of any Pacific island west of Hawaii. Unless the buildup is severely mismanaged - which is not unimaginable, given its scale, the attempts to compress the timeline and the spotty record of government bureaucracy - it promises to, as the saying goes, "raise all the boats."

The island's tourist industry, for example, came about as the island's airport - formerly Naval Air Station Agana - was opened to civilian commercial flights in the 1960s. Airlines established service to it as the only airport in the region able to accommodate their requirements. Hotels were built as tourists, who were known to sometimes sleep on the beach, began arriving and those with the means and the vision saw opportunity.

Today, our airport and virtually every other airport in the region is the beneficiary of millions of dollars of federally funded projects to enhance the safety and security of air transportation. The island communities recognize that the upgraded airports are likely to become a vital component of future economic development - not only to transport visitors to and from, but also to facilitate the export of fish, other raw materials or any manufactured goods that may come into play. And investors are less likely to put money into places they cannot get to with some degree of convenience.

Similarly, the backbone of the island's water, wastewater, power and roadway systems was initially built to support the military activity that became the basis of the island's economy. While there may be some discouragement over the amount of improvement needed, other islands lack such infrastructure.

The island's communications connectivity via undersea telecommunications cable began to meet the needs of the military. Recently, the Marshall Islands and Pohnpei have benefited from a military submarine fiber-optic cable project - that, by the way, comes to Guam as a significant hub for global connectivity.

Concerns about potential negative impacts of the buildup should be voiced and addressed. But the standard of living enjoyed by members of our community, including health care and education, permits participation in the 21st century global economy as it reaches our shores and, if desired, elsewhere.

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