Monday, May 11, 2009

It's All A Guess

Talifaitasi W. Satele

Businesses need to defend their decisions and not cede public opinion to the politicians or even to pundits, like myself. But seeing that Chicken of the Sea (COS) doesn’t want to justify how its bottom line is better off in Georgia than it is in American Samoa, then I guess someone has to speculate on their behalf.

I’m guessing that paying 200 workers $7.25/hr in Georgia is better than employing 2,172 of our people at $4.76/hr in American Samoa. That actually amounts to $8888.72 of instant savings in labor costs per hour, and that will especially be true if COS can employ less workers to do the same amount and quality of work in Georgia as it does now in the territory.

I’m guessing COS will be able to employ fewer workers to do the same job by investing in more capital (newer technology, methods and machines). It’s textbook economics that as labor costs go up, businesses have the incentive to substitute labor with machines. But as any accountant can tell you, the danger in doing that is that you increase your fixed costs relative to your variable costs. When things go south, you can’t fire machines; you still have to pay for them day in and day out.

I’m also guessing that the relocation to Lyons has a lot to do with its proximity to Atlanta , which is the transportation hub of the South East. Three interstate highways converge in Atlanta , and even Mexican drug cartels have relocated there to take advantage of the infrastructure. So instead of producing in American Samoa and shipping product via sea transportation, they’ll make it and transport it right there in its main marketplace.

I’m guessing there are whole bunch of other reasons that makes COS move more profitable than staying, but I’m not privy to any inside information. Is the minimum wage the sole reason they’re leaving? No. But it sure as hell didn’t help any.

The canneries may not have paid our people what many think are “fair” wages, but do they even get credit for all the indirect benefits they provided our great territory? Interest rates for auto loans are now going up; do the canneries get credit for unintentionally helping to keep them low while they were here?

How about the economies of scale they’ve helped with in transportation costs and electricity or all the supporting businesses that make money from them? Seems to me that the choice is either “fair” wages or nothing, which is not much of a choice at all.

I don’t care whose theory of economics this whole fiasco fits in. The fact is that we have 2000+ workers soon to be out of work, and we’ll trade $22-23 million of paid work for a $20 million welfare check from Uncle Sam (and that’s a Big IF). Our leaders must do something and do something quick.

But Faleomavaega’s rhetoric so far is not helping any. Any potential businesses or investors looking at American Samoa are probably reading his press statements and saying to themselves, “This is how I’m going to be attacked if I open up shop. Best not open up at all.”

How the government plans to attract businesses other than providing for a free market is anyone’s guess at this point.


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