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Troy Polamalu champions reviving territory's economy

One of American Samoa’s favorite sons, Troy Polamalu, is employing his fame as a Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety to call attention to “the unfortunate truth” that the southernmost territory of the United States is in economic distress.


In an op-ed piece in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Polamalu writes joblessness in American Samoa is at “record levels, that in any other part of our country would make national headlines.”


Explaining to his readers that the values embedded in his South Pacific culture — community, hard work, perseverance, and respect — contributed directly to his success and that of his Polynesian counterparts in the NFL, he goes on to say American Samoa’s “economic difficulty is not due to a lack of interest or ability among my fellow American Samoans, rather it is in many ways due to an archaic approach by our federal government.”


“American Samoa can no longer rely on dated economic policies that have been rendered ineffective due to a dramatically changing and increasingly competitive global economy. Our country's leaders have an obligation to help, and they must recognize that improving economic opportunities for American Samoa is in our beloved country's best interest,” he writes.


Polamalu calls attention to the signs of economic recovery in the United States while reminding, “American Samoa's economy continues to struggle after the physical destruction of an 8.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in 2009. The same week as the actual tsunami, American Samoa was hit again with an economic tsunami when a major tuna-canning factory closed its doors, slashing 2,000 jobs in an industry that represents nearly 80 percent of all private sector employment in the territory.”


He brings the subject of American Samoa’s economy home to his Pittsburgh readers with praise for StarKist, which headquarters there, saying the company “has been a committed friend and remains the territory's largest private-sector employer. Yet, despite StarKist's contribution, the unemployment rate remains at nearly 30 percent, compared to 7.3 percent for the United States as a whole and 7.5 percent here in Pennsylvania.”


He points out important work underway in an attempt to move the territory forward.  “Private-sector companies have stepped up by helping to create an environment where businesses can thrive. Led by StarKist, TriMarine, Hamburg Sud, Polynesia Line and others, the Stronger Economy for American Samoa coalition has started building support for a broad-based and sustainable new economic model, one that would help our entire nation move further down the road to recovery.”


“Our new governor, Lolo Moliga, is exploring new economic development ideas. In Congress, which plays a critical role in the island's economy due to our unique status as a U.S. territory, Rep. Eni Faleomavaega is helping to ensure issues facing American Samoa receive the attention they deserve.”


Polamalu says that American Samoa needs support from others who are in a position to assist. “As a territory, American Samoa has no representation in the U.S. Senate, and we Samoans lost a respected and powerful ally with the passing of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye. Others, like Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, who represent the headquarters of the largest employer in American Samoa, can and should lend their help.”


Building his case Polamalu points out that 100% of our electric power comes from unreliable and expensive diesel generators that create a barrier for companies that might look to do business here; and when it comes to repairing roads, “American Samoa must meet the same national economic-benefit targets as Pennsylvania to earn federal grants, even though the island's small population and isolated location makes it virtually impossible to do.”


Polamalu then calls for action by the U.S. Congress. “By providing American Samoans with help to develop 21st-century energy options and by helping to fix the crumbling roads that now don't qualify for federal money, Congress could level the playing field so it makes economic sense for businesses to invest in American Samoan communities.”


In a passionate plea Polamalu declares, “I am confident that American Samoa will emerge stronger than ever because its people have been part of the fabric of this nation for more than 113 years. American Samoa's impact has been felt from the football field to the boardroom and across every branch of our armed forces. I am proud of my island and its history, and I believe that with more public awareness about the economic struggle in American Samoa, our nation's leaders will listen and take action.”