The Northern Mariana Islands have the fastest growing economy in the US
For the second year in a row, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) had the fastest growing economy in the US. Although US national GDP only grew by 2.2%, the CNMI boasted a growth rate of a whopping 25% for the 2017 fiscal year.
Just the year before, in 2016, the CNMI’s growth rate was 28.6%, while US GDP increased a total of 1.5%. CNMI Governor Ralph Torres (R) describes this consistent, impressive growth as “nothing short of remarkable.”
These figures are even more impressive when compared with the territory’s growth rate just 3 years prior: 3.8% in 2015. Before 2013, the figures were even lower: 2.1% in 2012 and a deleterious –6.8% in 2011.
One of the fastest growing industries in the CNMI is tourism, which accounts for approximately half of all jobs on the islands. Tourists to the CNMI increased 10% in 2016, and private investment was up 60%, primarily in casinos and hotels—key features of the CNMI’s tourism industry.
Other notable industries include garments and textiles, construction, and handicrafts. Outside of these industries, the Northern Mariana Islands also receive substantial funding from the US government. In 2013, federal grants accounted for 35% of the commonwealth’s total revenue. Since the CNMI’s recent growth, though, the US has started scaling back on the amount of aid given to the territory.
Not all sectors are booming though; private fixed investment decreased 8.9% following three years of unprecedented growth in investment for the commonwealth. Also, with the CNMI’s rapid growth, there have been increased reports of drug-related crime and inadequate infrastructure and workforce numbers to keep up with the production demand.
Future growth is also being threatened by the US Citizenship Immigration Services, who have been steadily decreasing the allowed entry number of foreign workers. The Saipan Chamber of Commerce asserts that the CNMI’s need an abundant amount of workers to keep the commonwealth growing at its current rate.
Chamber president Velma Palacios claimed the new restrictions could cause a labor shortage, thus making it difficult for businesses to stay open and harming the economy. Palacios’ first claim has been confirmed by the US Government Accountability Office, which reported that “with current and planned development, the available number of US qualified workers in the CNMI is insufficient for business operations.” For now, though, the CNMI’s continue to enjoy the fruits of a burgeoning economy.