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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, November 28, 2022
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Interior, Commerce Fund Economic Data Gathering

March 24, 2009 — Complaints registered with Congress recently will lead to a complete set of economic data for the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories.
A new agreement between the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs and the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis will bring in about $1.6 million over the next 18 months to help put together and publish the kind of statistics that have been absent from the federal registry for years, according to local experts. Similar funding, which will also be used to train local economists and statisticians, will be distributed to the other outlying territories, including American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.
Gross domestic product estimates for the territories are expected within a year of the initiative's launch this summer, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in a recent statement.
But that's not to say that much of the data doesn't already exist on the local level. The calculation of economic factors such as gross domestic product has been done for years, in conjunction with a consultant from the Census Bureau, said Bureau of Economic Research head Lauritz Mills. Since there's no mandate from Congress to generate the data, however, Virgin Islands numbers have generally not been included in U.S. Commerce Department statistics, she explained Tuesday.
But with the new funding promised by the federal government, the territory will now be able to have the kind of representation it didn't have before — comparable to how economic data, like GDP, is collected in states throughout the mainland.
"We've complained bitterly for years that the federal government does not generate enough data on the territories as they do on the states," Mills said. "They give the states money to generate the data for the states, but they don't for the territories. What has been done in the past is that a consultant has been assigned us through the Census Bureau to generate the data, but they are given little money to do it. Last year, a meeting was held in Washington, where representatives from the territories went to register their complaints about this to Congress, and the decision was made from there on out to have the federal government begin to produce data that's on par with what's being produced on the states. So, this is the first step forward for us."
In addition to seeing local GDP on the list of federal statistics, Mills says the agreement will help explore a long list of other economic factors necessary to measure GDP in a predominantly tourism-based economy. While the territory brings in a number of visitors each year, much of what they eat or consume is imported, she said. This state of affairs prevails in other areas of the economy as well — Hovensa, for example, produces a number of petroleum products, but the crude is imported, Mills explained.
"There's another side that we'll be able to look at — in addition to government spending, exports, imports, that kind of thing, there are several other variables that go into determining GDP," she said. "The bottom line is that we need to know what we're producing, what's being counted as our output, things like our retail sales index and producer's price index that have to be looked at monthly. If we see a three-percent growth each year, then we're doing fine, and if we see a four-to-five percent growth, then we're doing excellently. And these numbers are now going to be making their way into the federal reports, so I'd say it's a positive first step."

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