Long Range Planning

Long Range Planning

I have always considered that area planning consisted of two principal elements; a physical component for infrastructure, (roads, schools, parks, power, etc.) and an economic base portion. The two are closely interlocked. Existing and projected economic indicators such as population characteristics; the various business sectors and their growth potential point the way for future infrastructure investment.

As a particular location on the island experiences growth, it follows that sooner or later existing roads, power, water, sewer and sometimes schools will have to be either provided or improved. Logically, roads should not be resurfaced and then dug up a short time later to install a sewer or water line. The line should should go in first. Citing another example, when a road is resurfaced, vehicle speeds increase, the accident rate goes up and some thought must be given to enlarging hospital emergency facilities. These obvious examples fall within the infrastructure or physical portion of a plan. It is one thing to create a plan – which by the way – should have broad community support, it is quite another matter to implement it. Usually, the only implementation tools available are: the budgeting process, various laws such as building codes and directing the use of land. Looking very briefly at land and just a couple of the many elements to consider, a particular use of land can also be a generator of vehicle traffic since its use can be either an origin or destination of traffic patterns. To cite another example, when it is known that a new road will one day be necessary, or an exiting roadway realigned at some point in the future, a plan can suggest that the necessary right of way be purchased at today’s prices rather than at some future time when the right of way is certain to be more expensive. A lot of common sense goes into creating a plan. The economic portion is quite different from the physical component of a plan. It is no secret that rigid economic planning is the anathema of private enterprise. Traditionally, economic planning, per se, has been the hallmark of socialistic and communist countries and we have all seen where that has led in recent years. Indeed, the United States does not have an economic plan for the nation and while many states and cities have plans for the physical development of their respective areas, I am not aware that any have extensive plans relative to economic development other than to strive toward establishing a conducive business and investment climate by offering incentives, constructing industrial parks and free trade zones.

Economic development cannot be “legislated” to occur, only the business climate within which the private sector is expected to thrive and prosper can be established by an area’s legal environment and even then it is only a welcome mat for potential investors, both local and foreign. The economic base portion of any plan is an important component since, in the absence of federal grants and programs, it is the economy that generates the tax revenues that will finance the infrastructure of the future and provide for the social programs for society, and it is the economic base that will provide the funds for the maintenance of facilities. There are many issues that have the potential for influencing the Commonwealth’s economic future in both positive and negative ways – all of which are difficult to foresee and measure, many of which are beyond the control of the Commonwealth. These include: the threat of United States control over immigration and the imposition of the U. S. minimum wage; a continuation of the benefits afforded by Headnote 3 (a) permitting duty free access to U. S. markets; the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on the CNMI’s garment industry; the influx of increasing numbers of unemployed, unskilled youth from the Federated States of Micronesia as that nation’s Compact funds become exhausted in a few years.

Should their economy falter, it will stimulate an outward migration to the Marianas and elsewhere for jobs. Still other uncertainties involve the relationship of the dollar to the yen and the continued health of Japan’s export economy; the Philippine Government’s ban on certain categories of expatriate workers; budget difficulties; the competitiveness of other tourist destinations around the Pacific; whether casino gambling will materialize on Saipan, Tinian and Rota and its economic contribution; the concern of future potential investors over Article XII and the sanctity of land title. These unknown issues make it difficult to make forecasts for any distance into the future. Any one of the above can have a major impact on the economy. Having mentioned some of the difficulties in anticipating the future direction of the economy does not mean that attempts to develop a “best estimate scenario” should not be made. It should. Hazardous as forecasting can be it is an improvement over the intuitive method which some would employ without any attempt to measure the many factors involved – but care must be exercised. To digress a bit, I am reminded of the economists in New York City, who at the start of this century, were concerned as to where all of the land would be found to grow the oats for all the horses that would be needed for transportation purposes by the year 1950.

As we can see technology has a way of nullifying the best of projections. Since each of the islands are different, a development plan tailored to fit the special circumstances of each would be worthwhile. Unlike Guam, the three principal inhabited islands of the Northern Marianas require a tremendous duplication of services that cannot be consolidated. Three airports, three school systems, three power and water systems, fire immigration, health, etc. Thus, the high cost of providing government services.