Lolo Administration is confident “in the future strength of our economy”
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Lolo Administration is confident “in the future strength of our economy” due to — among other things — strong private sector business recovery, establishment of new technology-based companies, and additional jobs created by StarKist, according to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga in his written State of the Territory Address.
In providing a summary of the territory’s economic development status, Lolo said efforts to implement a sustained economic development program at the inception of the Administration “was, and continues to be most challenging because impeding factors, not under our control, persistently undermined our economic development strategies.”
He said this “dilemma is clearly reflected in the erratic fluctuation” in the territory’s gross domestic product (GDP) from 2013 to 2018.
Lolo explained that the growth of the GDP from a negative 2.8% to a positive 3.2% for 2013 to 2015 was propelled by investments injected by Tri Marine International — which moved to start a cannery here — together with government acceleration in the construction of public infrastructural projects.
However, at the end of 2016, the GDP was a negative 1.4% and continued to drop to a negative 5.8% in 2017 before recovering to a positive 2.2% in 2018. The drop in the GDP in 2016, according to Lolo, was attributed to the closure of Tri Marine’s cannery as well as government spending being frozen at the time to reduce ASG’s deficit balance.
Lolo said the crippling effects of the long-term accumulation of legacy debts along with stagnant revenue generation capacity compelled the exploration of alternative sources of funds — the 2015 issuance of bonds — to enhance the financial and economic ability of ASG to implement its economic strategy rooted in diversification in 2015.
He provided a summary of how the bonds were spent on several local infrastructure projects (previously reported by Samoa News).
The governor explained that the spike in the GDP growth between 2017 and 2018 was due to “investment by StarKist to upgrade its physical plant as well as the government’s investments in public infrastructure. There is optimism that our GDP for 2019 will remain positive because of continued investments by StarKist to support its anticipated increase in pouch production when its California production plant closes.”
Lolo said the future strength of the local economy will be catalyzed by among other things — a strong private sector business recovery; additional employment by StarKist; greater access by businesses to venture capital through business loans from the Territorial Bank of American Samoa; completion of the government’s major infrastructural projects; and anticipated reduction in utility costs when ASPA’s renewable energy power generating systems are launched. “We are very confident … that the implementation of the … described economic development initiatives will likewise incentivize the creation of new jobs” for local residents.
At the close of 2013, the unemployment rate was recorded at 20.4% — and this was attributed to the closure of COS Samoa Packing cannery in 2009, triggering the loss of over 4,000 direct and indirect jobs in the private sector.
From 2014 to 2016 the unemployment rate declined from 12.1% in 2014 to 10.5% in 2016. The closure of Tri Marine’s cannery raised the unemployment rate to 14.3%. However, StarKist’s production expansion spurred the hiring of additional employees and shrank the unemployment rate to 11.4% in 2018.
Lolo explained that the $23 million approved by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for Tropical Storm Gita related damages in 2018, and the $18 million from the US Agriculture Department for Gita relief expenditures will stimulate consumption and business sales.
Additionally, the Development Bank of American Samoa “continues quietly to fund business, home, and community loans which contributed to employment and economic growth.” Data included in the written address shows that between 2013 and 2019, DBAS approved and disbursed more than $14.9 million in home loans (new and repairs) and more than $3.1 million in small business loans.
As for the Hawaiki cable, launched last July, Lolo said the investment will begin to bear financial and economic results as the local Telecommunications Authority continues to launch new services with the simultaneous sale of Hawaiki’s 200 gigabytes of bandwidth.
On tourism, Lolo said it “has not achieved our expectations” but appreciates growth in the number of cruise ships calling into the Port of Pago Pago…” Additionally, the ASVB board of directors has been reconstituted “with a new mandate of focusing on local development activities beneficial not only to visitors to our island but also to our local residents.”
Lolo touched on an “emerging trend adopted by some of local business owners converting raw agricultural products such as taro, breadfruit, banana, ta’amu, and other root crops to commercial salads and chips products,” and thanked businesswoman Patricia Vaivao “for sharing… the products of a new business venture, which directly advances our economic vision of economic diversification by using local resources and converting them to export products and for local consumption thereto impacting our import substitution economic goal.”
Lolo said the Administration is “very encouraged” by the increased number of local farmers expanding their production of traditional crops and vegetables to replace imported products destined for the School Lunch Program.
Additionally, the resurrection campaign by the Dept of Agriculture encouraging families to re-engage in small family agricultural plots for subsistence will significantly improve self-sufficiency and abate the leakage of local funds through the purchase of imports.
Lolo shared that there is a noticeable increase in the pounds of locally caught fish being sold at the market place, in stores, and along the roadside, but the amounts are limited, indicating the potential for expansion. And this “will also serve to improve our subsistence capacity and advance our import substitution goals.”
Lolo said there’s optimism that employment growth will be experienced in 2019 and beyond, “because StarKist is sure to continue its production expansion plan” now that Congress has approved the extension of the 30(A) Tax Credit and the anticipated reduction in utility costs when ASPA’s renewable energy program is completed.
He said the suspension of any hike in the federal minimum wage for the next 2 years, ready access to venture capital from TBAS, and favorable utility rates, improve the business and economic environment which “we hope to spark growth in our economy.”