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Enter the Saipanpreneur Zone, Part 1

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!

Eight years ago, the 12th Legislature of the CNMI enacted Public Law 12-020, or the Northern Mariana Islands Free Trade Zone Act of 2000. If you’re new to the island, as I am, or if you’ve never read the actual text of the Act, I’d like to share some of it with you in a new series of articles. It is my hope that the information, inspiration and ideas contained within may inspire your own unique business idea. And, whether your business qualifies for Free Trade Zone status or not, I hope you’ll be encouraged to take further steps to bring your ideas to life. Therefore, let’s start with the opening lines of the act:

[Excerpt] Section 2. Findings and Purpose.

The Legislature finds that it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth to establish free trade zones as an economic development tool to encourage the establishment of new business, industrial and commercial activities in order to diversify the Commonwealth economy. Two industries, tourism and garment manufacturing, constitute the current economic base of the CNMI. As recent events, including the prolonged economic downturn in Asia, have demonstrated, this economy is extremely vulnerable to forces outside of the CNMI's control. In addition, it appears that apparel manufacturing activity may lessen in the Commonwealth in the next several years as international trade agreements affecting tariffs make other international manufacturing locations more economically attractive than the CNMI.

The Legislature further finds that it is in the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth to take aggressive actions to broaden the CNMI's economic base through diversification. The Legislature further finds that the types of business, industrial and commercial activity that are in the best long term interests of the people of the CNMI are those that require significant capital investment, are low labor intensive, have negligible impact on the environment, and are compatible with tourism. Illustrative examples of such types of desirable business activities would be: production of computer hardware and software, licensing and distribution of intellectual property, computer programming services, data base storage and retrieval, financial and trade related services. These examples are illustrative only, not limiting. Such businesses will attract skilled and highly paid employees, and will provide meaningful training opportunities for the citizens of the CNMI. The Commonwealth’s leading industry will remain tourism so businesses in the free trade zones must not cloud the air, foul the beaches or contaminate the aquifer. [End excerpt]

I particularly support the idea of businesses, processes and residual effects not clouding the air, fouling the beaches or contaminating the water. I would add to that focusing on natural resources and recycling to find unique uses for natural resources and recyclables. Here are a few ideas.

“Green” Businesses Ideas: Food, clothing and shelter from things natural and used.

Coconuts, Coconuts, Coconuts!

I’m a huge fan of the untapped potential of the tropically ubiquitous coconut. The fruit, the husk, the tree, the leaves, the sap all have a variety of uses. Did you know that people make ropes and yarns, aquarium filters, car seat covers, boats, flower pots, soundproofing, mulch for plant growing, heat insulation, brushes, bristles, mattresses, door mats and matting, rugs and carpets from coconut? Did you know that it’s even used for soil erosion control (The fibers entangle well with the ground and prevent topsoil from washing away during storms)?

I particularly like its use to make consumable items like vinegar, tuba, medicine, (it’s a more potent and more natural source of electrolytes-say goodbye to high-priced sports drinks which are mostly sugar!

Rotapreneur Gina Rankin makes a noticeably potent virgin coconut oil (I’ve ordered and used it myself) using a unique, cold-milling process that uses absolutely no fire or heat, which robs the oil of a portion of its nutrients and potency. Gina also uses glass bottles to further maintain the oil’s purity and ships worldwide. Email for prices;

But that’s not all! Tableware, fashion accessories, furniture, brooms, musical instruments, building material, soap, toothpaste, and even dye (made from the roots of the coconut tree) are all unique coconut-based products just waiting for the adventurous entrepreneur to dive in with a passion. Check out for more amazing uses of coconuts.

Tire Sandals plus

I think it was fellow Saipan Tribune contributor, Tony Pellegrino, who mentioned this one to me. There are lots of things you can do with old automobile and truck tires. One such idea is to use them make footwear that lasts just about as long as the 50,000 miles the original tires boast!

One webmaster and naturalist has even provided a design plan for such sandals at (adapted from Participating in Nature: Thomas J. Elpel’s Field Guide to Primitive Living Skills). Who knows, you might be able to get a patent for your uniquely Saipan Sandal design or manufacturing process and license it to manufacturers worldwide, or set up your own factory here on island! Check out for more ideas.

“Home Sweet Container”

I’ve heard of some creative builders here on Saipan who are building houses from used shipping containers. That’s right. In fact, not just here in Micronesia, but worldwide the trend has even spawned a new field known as "container architecture."

According to an article titled "Innovative architects turn used shipping containers into homes" in the SanFrancisco Chronicle (, out-the-box thinkers of the pre-fab(ricated) home construction trend are taking the use of containers beyond their use (by the military for example) as temporary offices, bunk houses and showers: "Cheap, strong and easily transportable by boat, truck or train, these big steel structures now litter the ports of America as mementos of our Asian-trade imbalance. (Many more full containers arrive on our shores than depart, so ports either ship them back empty-to the tune of about $900 per-or sell them.) Hurricane proof, flood proof, fire proof, these metal Lego blocks are tough enough to be stacked 12-high empty-and thus can be used in smaller multistory buildings."

The Free Trade Zone Act goes on summarize the benefits and incentives of operating a business in the designated “free trade” zones:

[Excerpt] In order to entice new economic activity, the CNMI must provide tax and other financial incentives similar to those offered by the United States and other countries internationally. To accomplish this, the Legislature finds that it is in the best interest of the people of the Commonwealth to make available for lease public lands at reasonable rates and to provide incentives in the form of tax relief for desirable businesses establishing operations within the free trade zones. [End excerpt]

Ideas like these represent merely the tip of the volcano. There's more fire and heat the deeper you delve into this type of thinking. And who knows what might happen when you combine creativity, entrepreneurial courage, outside-the-box thinking and a free trade zone? For a copy of the entire act, visit

Note: We’ll explore more excerpts of the Free Trade Zone Act as well as more business ideas in future columns. For more tips on acting on your ideas and creating a passion-centered lifestyle, visit!

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Until next time, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!-Walt


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