Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'I'm not against the buildup': Supporters prepare in anticipation of economic growth

'I'm not against the buildup': Supporters prepare in anticipation of economic growth

By Amritha Alladi • Pacific Daily News • January 18, 2010

A slew of activists have fervently voiced their opposition to the military buildup during a series of recent public hearings, but there are some others who look forward to the economic growth expected from the buildup -- though they may not be as vocal in their assertions.

They have until Feb. 17 to submit their opinions quietly on paper.

For example, Jose Villas, general manager of Eureka's Construction, said he hasn't commented on the draft Environmental Impact Statement. However, he supports the expansion opportunities presented by the relocation of 8,000 Marines and their dependents to Guam.

"I'm not against the buildup," he said. "Our employees right now are all local workers, they're all skilled. That's all we need, to train those kind of people."

That's not to say Villas is placing all his hopes on the buildup, because Villas, like many other in his field, knows not to put all his eggs in one basket.

James Martinez, president of the Guam Contractors Association, said he, too, has not been to any of the draft EIS hearings, but he supports the military buildup. He said the association has been training workers in light carpentry. However, the training in heating, air conditioning, light carpentry and photovoltaic systems is long-term and sustainable so workers will not only be employable for maintenance jobs after the buildup is over, but will also be employable whether the buildup happens.

"Even if it doesn't happen, there's building of infrastructure we need to take care of," Martinez said. "If you're going to train specifically for this military buildup, you're probably training for the wrong reason."

In fact, it's because the fate of the buildup still see-saws precariously that local businessman James Adkins said Guam's residents shouldn't challenge the Defense Department's land acquisition requests.

"The military is starting to look at some of the things that are being said by our senators that they do not want the military here. You couple that with the other things that are going on in Japan (and) we are not sure that we will even get this buildup," Adkins said.

And according to him, no one has produced an alternative to solving Guam's economic problems. So far, the buildup has been the only viable option, he said.

"I agree," said Guam Visitors Bureau General Manager Gerry Perez. "I have not heard any major economic development initiative proffered by those most vocal in opposing the military buildup."

According to the draft EIS, the military buildup will create 3,000 jobs for civilian workers by the 2014 peak, and an additional 6,150 jobs will be provided on a "more permanent basis" thereafter. The government of Guam is expected to generate $325 million in 2014 revenue alone, the document states.

However, Guam Department of Labor chief economist Gary Hiles said it's not so black-and-white.

"The buildup will bring more jobs to the island and more revenue to the government of Guam. However, it will cause the government of Guam to incur substantial additional capital investment for infrastructure and increased operating costs in public safety, health care and education," he said.

While some of these costs can be mitigated through increased federal support, like the federal legislative action to exclude Guam from the national caps on the number of H-2B workers, more federal mitigation is required, he said.

For instance, the removal of provisions in federal law that protected Guam and U.S. workers will require additional mitigation so that the standard of living of workers doesn't continue to deteriorate due to the costs of living increasing faster than wages, he said. He added the proposed actions outlined in the draft EIS indicate an increase in the cost of living for Guam's residents.

Albert Perez, an economist with the Bureau of Statistics and Plans, agreed the buildup opportunities will be more fruitful for some than others, but the real reason for Guam's economic decline isn't that the military lightened its operations on Guam, as Adkins noted during a recent public hearing.

"I think the principal factor affecting what hasn't fueled our local economy of late is the state of the world financial markets," Albert Perez said. "Notwithstanding the military buildup, what will gradually fuel Guam's economy is a recovered world financial market which investors, tourists and consumers alike perceive as stable and long-lasting."

But tourism's dependence on foreign markets will only get Guam so far, according to GVB's Gerry Perez.

Guam, as a "leisure market" dependent on the now-declining markets of Japan and Korea, has been starved for cash in recent years, he said.

"This situation has made it difficult ... to pay for necessary upgrades in our tourism plant and island infrastructure, while attending to critical health, education, and public safety issues," he said. "The military buildup will stimulate new markets, attract higher spending business travelers, and generate more income to pay for improvements in public service."

He said the buildup will also force the upgrades in long-neglected roads, bridges, utilities, and other infrastructure that serve both local residents and tourists.

"The planned expenditures from the military buildup far exceeds the combined total of all tourism investments made in Guam since the industry's inception some 40 years ago," Gerry Perez added. "This is the magnitude of what's at stake, and is the reason for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton saying that we need to get this 'done right.'"

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