Plans for food processing plant in American Samoa
Plans for a food processing plant that promises about 700 jobs in American Samoa has been met with cautious optimism.
Plans for a food processing plant that promises about 700 jobs in American Samoa have been met with cautious optimism.
The Philippines company, AVM Bernardo Engineering, says the local operation would be a 100-million US dollar investment, and expects 95 percent of the employees will be locals.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
The Philippines company wants to take advantage of benefits that allow American Samoa-made products duty free entry into the United States. Its principal owner, Anthony Bernardo, says the plant will be able to process products in a cost effective and efficient manner, with its first planned products to be fish-based.
ANTHONY BERNARDO: We will do the traditional canned products, but we will be also producing frozen products, like fish based sausages, patties, nuggets. We will be able to accept as the main variety of fish, it will be the tuna, but as well as other varieties, so I believe the fisher folks will be very happy with the introduction of this plant.
It has been difficult in the past for the territory to attract foreign investors because of mandated wage hikes, and minimum wages are high compared to elsewhere in the region. However, Anthony Bernardo says this is not a problem for the company.
ANTHONY BERNARDO: The competition into the main market, the minimum wage there is much much higher than what you are having here. Second is, the technology is being utilised to be able to cope up with the expectations and the regulations of the law of the island, so that is well respected and that is well known, so it will not be a problem.
The chair of the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce, Lewis Wolman, says it welcomes the news and hopes the plant can be established in the near future. But he says not many people know the details of the plans.
LEWIS WOLMAN: Over the years, a lot of people in American Samoa and elsewhere, other Pacific islands, has had groups come forward with big plans that didn't materialise, so I think it's correct to say there's cautious optimism. Definitely optimism, and the caution comes from having heard about plans in the past that never materialised and hoping that this one will be for real.
In 2009, the territory lost one of its two canneries due to imposed wage hikes and Lewis Wolman says there hasn't been any new jobs to fill that employment gap. He says they look forward to a replacement plant, Samoa Tuna Processors, opening in early 2015, with expectations that it will employ one thousand workers.
LEWIS WOLMAN: But that would still leave a thousand people who had been involved in the food processing industry five years ago without a new job so hopefully this group from the Philippines can provide 700 jobs and put everybody who was working in the past back to work.
Our correspondent in American Samoa, Monica Miller, says the territory has been in a bad economic slump, and the creation of jobs is something that the government and individuals look forward to. But she says officials are warning that due diligence still needs to be done.
MONICA MILLER: Just to make sure because there were some senators who pointed to the failed garment factory that used to operate here, the Uso Samoa, and they said that everything must be done to make sure that this is a legitimate company and that their plans according to what they say are going to be valid and be in the best interest of the territory.
The company has invited government officials to visit the Philippines to familiarise themselves with the company.
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