“DOC MISSION IS TO ENHANCE QUALITY OF LIFE IN AM SAMOA”
This is in response to Mr. Keniseli Lafaele commentary, “OP ED: Tamaseugogo #8,” in the November 5th edition of the Samoa News. While the letter dealt with a number of sections, I would like to take the opportunity to respond to his comments regarding economic development.
The Department of Commerce’s (DOC) mission is to enhance the quality of life in American Samoa. This includes protecting the culture, conserving the environment, and growing the economy. It is by building on all three areas that true, sustainable growth can be obtained. Each pillar makes the others stronger. But if you take out even one leg of a stool, the whole thing will collapse.
In 2008, the U.S. and global economies sunk into recession. In 2009, closure of COS and the tsunami devastated the economic landscape of the territory. The tsunami also destroyed infrastructure and economic activity, caused significant environmental degradation, not to mention the profound loss of life. This territory has show its resilience in overcoming that disaster and coming away stronger than before.
As a pillar of quality of life, the environment is important to DOC’s role. DOC works very hard to bolster and enhance the work of the other environmental agencies within ASG, but each department does have different roles and responsibilities. DOC recognizes that our economic growth is intrinsically tied to our environmental health, whether it is agriculture, eco-tourism, or fishing to name a few. Even the environmental initiatives are designed to improve the economy, such as the new Tauese Sunia Ocean Center or the installation of the hyperbaric chamber at LBJ Hospital, both of which will spur tourism growth in American Samoa.
To say that NOAA runs DOC shows a fundamental lack of understanding about what DOC does. DOC is proud to work with all of its federal partners, including the Department of Interior, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Commerce, and other agencies on a myriad of important economic development initiatives.
Through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), DOC has been able to fund the DAHLP affordable home loans program. Through this program, families that do not qualify for home loans from the commercial banks are given a second chance to borrow at low rates to improve their homes.
The CDBG and Economic Development Administration (EDA) also helped build the Fagatogo Marketplace, which provides opportunities for small businesses to operate in a central location at very competitive rental rates. Through the planning division, DOC hosts a monthly event at the marketplace, called “First Fridays,” where numerous small businesses are brought together. These events have been extremely successful, with huge turn-out from the community and record profits for the businesses. If you have ever enjoyed some koko Samoa or panikeke on a First Friday, you helped contribute to the economic growth of American Samoa.
To halt the economic effects of the minimum wage, DOC conducted serious analysis and drafted reports of the effects of the law which helped guide U.S. policy makers in granting American Samoa an extension. This single act, which was a major priority for DOC, will have lasting impact on the territory by giving it some breathing room for growth in the coming years.
To help small businesses and encourage new growth, DOC worked closely with the Economic Advisory Council and the Chamber of Commerce to draft a bill that would greatly streamline the business license process in American Samoa. This bill has been submitted to the Fono and we hope that the Fono will act as quickly as possible to help spur growth.
Never stopping, DOC is continuously working hard to promote business growth in the territory. Coming up on December 5-6, ASG will be hosting the Ulu Summit, which will help establish an agricultural food manufacturing and export industry in American Samoa network by connecting the breadfruit producers to the research and technical capacity of university centers and development organizations in the nation and region.
Next year, DOC will host the Two Samoas Trade Fair, which will bring together businesses from both Samoas to build trade opportunities throughout the archipelago.
DOC has commissioned an 18-month Transportation Marketing Study for potential expanded air passenger and cargo services for American Samoa. One of the goals of the study will be to determine the most promising approaches to expanding air services capacity to meet potential future increased air service for American Samoa.
These are just a few examples of DOC work towards promoting sustainable economic development.
I do not dismiss some of the problems Mr. Lafaele points out. DOC welcomes ideas for enhancing our quality of life, and improving our economic development. I simply point out that we must retain some rational perspective to deal effectively with the economic development issues that concern American Samoa’s future. All of this takes a great deal of planning and analysis. It was this dedication to an improved quality of life that helped avert the economic meltdown threatening the territory over the last few years.
DOC has demonstrated that the territory can have economic development and protect its environment. It can open new businesses while retaining its culture. That is the very nature of smart growth; of a better quality of life.
Acting Director Department of Commerce
American Samoa Government