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How to Stay Positive All the Time During Federalization

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!

This is not an article in favor of or in opposition to federalization. This is an article in support of business survival regardless of how federalization plays out.

First a little review

As you may recall, people were predicting doom once the feds revoked the Russian and Chinese visa waiver privilege. We’ve since learned that Russians and Chinese will continue to be allowed onto the island. And everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

People were predicting doom and mass deportations once the feds take over immigration. We’ve now learned that contract workers will be issued an “umbrella” permit that will allow non-immigrant workers to remain on Saipan for the next two years. And everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Sure, you can argue that these are simply temporary fixes for a long-term challenge that won’t go away. However, there is still a lesson here.

Lessons learned

So, what have we learned? Hopefully, it should be obvious that the cataclysmic doom and destruction that people often fear doesn’t happen quite the way people predict. Even in the midst of an economic downturn, we can still have months where tourist numbers in certain markets exceed that of previous years, as was just reported for September 2009. Even as the guest worker program is phased out, we can experience measures being taken that will stem the tide and ease the pain.

Those who know the law know that despite how the U.S. is perceived by many, there are controls in place (i.e., the constitution, civil rights, legal action) that allow recourse by the CNMI and/or ensure that the federal government’s actions don’t violate basic human rights. Therefore, you can bet that as things progress, there will be similar actions to ease the transition, so as not to unduly cripple the economy, separate families or trample human rights.

So, whether it comes through the largess of the feds, the efforts of those who oppose it, or a combination of the two, what we are seeing during federalization is a gradual transition from one reality to another. It is in this transition that the opportunity for business owners exists.

The Gift of Transition

Now, of course, the story is still being written, and we are still in the early stages of this transition. It doesn’t mean all is well. There is still an overriding agenda in play. There is still a seemingly inexorable movement toward the complete federalization and militarization of this region. Businesses will close, residents and contract workers will leave. But, at the same time, during this transition, businesses will open and residents as well as immigrants will arrive.

Such transition periods offer business owners the opportunity to prepare. What are you doing to prepare for the new reality? What are you doing, for instance, to prepare for 2014 when the entire contract worker program is scheduled to end? Preparation involves anticipating what the new reality will be. Here’s a tip.

Follow the law

There’s an old maxim that states, “opportunities follow laws.” In other words, whenever a new law or regulation is enacted, it usually results in new business opportunities.

If you recall a few months ago, the Department of Public Safety announced its new driver education requirements. As a result, there was created, and continues to exist an opportunity for enterprising entrepreneurs to start their own Driver Training Schools. New law. New business.

Similarly, as federalization pushes forward, there will be interim regulations, exceptions, new statuses created, new requirements, and changing opportunities that come with each one. Typically, each new law means there’s a new set of questions, perceptions, behaviors that the law generates. It is within these questions and behaviors that the opportunity exists. Here’s one example.

A new wave of immigrants?

Along with federalization comes a new regulation. As you may have heard, DHS and Department of Justice regulations have recently been updated to amend the definition of the geographical “United States” to now include the CNMI for immigration purposes. Prior to this update, people with U.S. permanent resident alien status (“green cards”) who came to the CNMI were considered technically “outside” of the United States, and, if they stayed too long, would risk being in violation of the terms of their green card status that requires they maintain continuous residence in the geographical United States for a specified number of months each year.

In other words, it hasn’t been just the distance that has kept some U.S. mainlanders away from Saipan. For those green card holders who wished to become U.S. citizens, their time in the CNMI did not count toward their residency requirement. Now it will.

What this means is that once word gets out that Saipan is now part of the U.S. (and as the minimum wage approaches national levels), green card holders living in the U.S., or even on Guam, might consider coming to Saipan to live and work, providing a new influx of residents and labor.

That’s just one example. Savvy entrepreneurs follow federalization not just to “see what happens,” but to anticipate what will happen, and see what they can make happen! It’s not all about doom and gloom.

This I know for sure

As things play out, the Saipan of the future may not look exactly the same as it does today. However, what we can be relatively sure of is that there will be businesses in operation, there will be people living and working here, there will be employees earning whatever the minimum wage is at that time, and there will be tourists coming to the island spending money. The question is whether you will be part of, or be selling to any of those groups.

As mentioned, this is not an article in favor of, or in opposition to federalization. As a business owner you can and should offer your support toward whichever outcome you favor. There is strength in numbers. So, if you favor federalization, speak out and join forces with others who do. If you oppose it, speak out and join forces with those who do. But in the interim, regardless of which camp prevails, there is still the need to survive and thrive here on Saipan should you decide to stay the course toward the eventual outcome.

The Moral of the Story

So, to stay positive all the time, even during federalization, remember:

1. Things are never as gloomy as the pessimists predict.

2. Start preparing now for each possible outcome.

3. There will be new opportunities that come partnered with every new law, constitutional amendment and regulation that is enacted.

4. There will be an opportunity-rich transition period from one reality to another.

Keep these in mind when the time comes and the inevitable pro and con debate surrounding Article 12 heats up. If you’ve learned the lessons from federalization, you’ll probably be able to write your own column titled “How to Stay Positive All The Time...Before and After Article 12.”*

*Article 12: the section of the CNMI Constitution that limits purchase and ownership of land in the CNMI to people of Northern Marianas descent.

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Note: Fans and followers of the book, Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan may now request copies here on Saipan by emailing me, or
Note: Ever wanted to direct your friends and family to a set of websites that said good things about Saipan? Do what I do: send them to!

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Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!

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