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Gov. Togiola glad company commits to stay

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 9, 2011) - With StarKist Co. making an honest commitment about its long-term plans and investment in the territory, Gov. Togiola Tulafono said the government could work on an assistance package for the company. The governor says the company has not been honest in the past about its plans for American Samoa.

Last week the Togiola met with StarKist Co.'s new president and chief executive officer In-Shoo Cho, along with the company vice president of chain supply Pat Moody, who left the territory last Thursday night.

Togiola said the meeting covered a wide range of issues and he was very pleased to hear directly - for the first time - the company management talking about their plans for moving forward and wanting to remain in American Samoa for years to come, seeking assistance from the local government as well as local businesses dealing with the canneries.

The governor said the most important aspect of the meeting was that the company was honest with its future plans to remain here and invest in the territory.

He said it was difficult in the past for the government to offer any concessions to assist StarKist without knowing what they planned to do. Togiola said that there was never any clear message from the cannery, which kept side stepping the government every time they were asked.

The governor said there was no need to come up with any type of assistance when no one knew if the company would remain here.

Togiola said he shared with the StarKist team the firm commitment by the government to help StarKist remain competitive while maintaining its presence in American Samoa, especially due to the important issue of employment.

He said that after the government signed off on the ASG tax exemption, he was very pleased to learn that this incentive, along with other assistance, allowed StarKist to hire 500 new workers, with the company planning to have a workforce of a little over 2,000 by next year.

According to the governor, one of the most important issues surrounding the tax exemption was that it would enable StarKist to hire more workers and he is thankful StarKist has done just that.

He said StarKist has asked for increased freezer storage, a break in energy costs and keeping wage costs down, and these are issues the administration is committed to help with.

Cho had said in an interview last week that he had informed the governor-during their meeting - "we are willing to invest more, when the [American] Samoan government and the Samoan people are willing to invest." Cho also hopes that the current wages will be maintained or even rolled back.

Meanwhile, the governor said that top officials of Tri Marine International, which is operating the new cannery Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., would be in the territory later this week and he plans to meet with them as well.

He said the goal for the government is to look at the development of this company as well as creating more jobs for the territory.

Togiola said the freezer facility is one of the government's commitments to both canneries as well as aiding the development of local fishing alias. He wants enough storage space for cannery fishing vessels as well as local fishermen, who can then provide fish for Tri Marine's fish export venture.

Togiola said he is also pleased to hear that local fishermen have restarted their local fishing alias and encouraged others to do the same. He said the government would continue to find ways to help them in these times when there are not sufficient jobs in the local economy.

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