Starkist isn't going anywhere, says company president and CEO
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — StarKist Co., president and chief executive officer, Andrew Choe has “reaffirmed” the company’s commitment to remain in American Samoa, despite the same continued challenges it faces in a very competitive global industry, as labor cost is much lower at other tuna producing countries.
Choe, who arrived on island Monday night for a week-visit, reiterated the company’s commitment during a meeting yesterday morning with ASG officials, led by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, who is also acting governor.
StarKist confirmed in a brief statement on Monday that Choe — traveling with senior leadership from StarKist’s corporate office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — was to be on island this week and will spend time with the StarKist Samoa leadership team and participate in the 2019 Flag Day celebration.
Choe was quoted in the statement saying it’s always an honor to be in American Samoa, especially for this year’s Flag Day festivities. “I am looking forward to a productive time with our StarKist Samoa leadership team and employees and appreciate the opportunity to show our gratitude to local leaders, both in government and business, for their ongoing support."
StarKist didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News follow-up questions Monday on whether Choe has plans to meet with Lemanu and ASG officials, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, who is on island, and those in the private sector.
The company statement says Choe’s visit is also an opportunity to “discuss critical issues” that are impacting StarKist’s business in American Samoa.
“There are many issues working against American Samoa, but StarKist remains committed to working” with territorial leaders — including Aumua — “and the people of American Samoa to ensure a globally competitive and viable economic environment for conducting business in the territory.”
The Governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira confirmed to Samoa News that Choe, accompanied by StarKist Samoa general manager, Sangdong Kwon, and other company officials, met yesterday morning with Lemanu.
At the meeting, Choe extended “well wishes” from StarKist for the “speedy recovery” of Gov. Lolo M. Moliga (whom Samoa News points out is currently in Seattle undergoing medical check-ups and had sent a Flag Day message to the people of American Samoa.)
Choe “expressed, as well, the profound gratitude of Starkist for the unwavering support from the Lolo/ Lemanu Administration,” Iulogologo told Samoa News after the meeting. “Mr. Choe again reaffirmed the commitment of Starkist to remain in American Samoa inherent in the expansion of its production facilities.
Additionally, the support of the American Samoa Government reflected in its support of StarKist's request for new permit conditions “was also acknowledged with a deep appreciation as well.”
Choe informed Lemanu of the “same challenges” which continue “to provide operating hurdles and impediments for the growth and financial viability of StarKist in American Samoa,” said Iulogologo.
These challenges include ready access to fish stock, loss of federal incentives such as the 30(A) tax credit; the departure of fishing vessels to home port in Samoa and other Pacific Islands; and the recently imposed federal minimum wage.
In response, Lemanu expressed ASG's gratitude to Choe and the Starkist organization on behalf of the governor, the leaders, and the people of American Samoa.
Lemanu also informed Choe that the territory will be hosting for the first time, the Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG) in the summer this year, and one of the agenda items will be fishing, for which StarKist will play a vital role. “We will work with Starkist relative to details of the PLG Forum,” Lemanu informed Choe.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Congresswoman Aumua Amata said it’s “likely that I'll get a chance to meet” with Choe while he’s on island and “I've always appreciated his continuing plans to do business in our Territory.”
Aumua said she continues to support further extensions of the American Samoa Economic Development Credit “for the future, to help preserve these jobs and I continue to call for the restoration of more of our fishing areas and spoke out in Washington on that issue recently, to help Congress understand how our economy is uniquely reliant on fishing.”
In its statement, the company said StarKist Samoa is a proud sponsor of this year’s Flag Day, and nearly 2,000 StarKist Samoa employees will be marching in the Flag Day parade and will be joined by the local management team as well as those from the corporate office.
“StarKist Samoa has been a proud member of the American Samoan community for 56 years, and I am so pleased to celebrate the 119th Flag Day celebration with our employees,” said Choe.
NEW GENERAL MANAGER
StarKist Co. confirmed yesterday that Jason Kim has been named general manager of StarKist Samoa, effective May 1, 2019. Kim previously held the position of deputy general manager at StarKist Samoa, and he brings more than 27 years of operations experience to the StarKist Samoa facility.
Kwon, the current GM who took over the post in 2014, and also a company director, is returning to Dongwon, which is headquartered in South Korea and owns StarKist as well as the Satala-based can manufacturing plant, American Samoa Talofa Systems Inc.
“We appreciate Mr. Kwon’s contributions and commitment to StarKist Samoa over the years and wish him the very best in future endeavors as he returns to Dongwon,” said Choe.
Kim was introduced as the new GM during yesterday’s meeting with Lemanu.