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CNMI economy showing signs of new life

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The CNMI economy is showing signs of new life, with investments in tourism helping to reverse several years of decline. The commonwealth is banking heavily on new hotel developments. Especially a much publicized $7.1 billion mega-resort casino project.

The CNMI had been mired in a deep slump since its number two industry-garment manufacturing was effectively shut down in 2009 by global quota changes. While tourism was and is the main driver of the economy, it was also on a downturn. But speaking at a Guam Chamber meeting, the president of the CNMI chamber, Alex Sablan says, that's now changing. "I believe it's definitely on an upturn, specifically through our tourism efforts. Governor Eloy Inos about a couple of years again ran an RFP, which I believed stirred the opportunities if you will of what was available. He ran an RFP of what was available in the northern and southern end, and we had individuals who came forward," he said.

Sablan says some 1,000 new hotel rooms are expected to come on-line by the end of next year. But by far the biggest boost to the economy is expected to come from casino and luxury resort developer Best Sunshine, which won the exclusive gaming license for Saipan. The Hong Kong-listed company has promised to parlay that into a $7 billion integrated casino resort. But the mega project has not been without its critics in Saipan, those who oppose gaming in general, and skeptics who doubt all the projects will be completed as planned.

"At this stage, they are the selected group, we have to move forward with them. If they're not able to do so then we move on to the next group. But at this stage, Best Sunshine does have the contract, they are pursuing a build of 250 rooms and we believe they can complete the two thousand rooms as required and they are projecting a $2 billion investment in those 2,000 rooms," he said.

Sablan says if all goes as projected, the CNMI could see construction of an additional 6,000 new rooms. Creating other challenges that a CNMI government task force is already looking into primarily the need for several thousand new tourism industry workers.

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