The gross domestic product for the Marianas fell to $1.3 billion in 2018 — a 19.6% drop largely due to the havoc Supertyphoon Yutu left when it struck in 2018.
The steep drop follows a sharp increase of 25% in 2017 — $1.6 billion — over the GDP in 2016. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis made the announcement Thursday afternoon. The estimates were developed under the Statistical Improvement Program funded by the Office of Insular Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
BEA Director Brian C. Moyer is in the Marianas to brief Gov. Ralph Torres and Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan and work with local agencies that collect the underlying data, according to a press release from Sablan's office.
Moyer was also in the Marianas just days before Supertyphoon Yutu hit last year to announce the 2017 GDP numbers.
Yutu slammed into the Northern Mariana Islands on Oct. 25, 2018, ripping roofs off of homes, throwing cars and trucks across lots, and snapping power poles.
Sablan said, though the storm struck during the fourth quarter of the year, it still had a huge impact on overall numbers for 2018.
"Tourists stopped coming after the storm and this economic data reflects that negative impact," Sablan said, noting he anticipates the negative impact will reverberate through 2019 in spite of the federal dollars that have poured in as emergency and recovery provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Federal spending after Yutu helped to offset some of the losses from tourist dollars last year. It may be that the tens of millions of federal dollars spent this year in the recovery effort will also offset, to some extent, the continuing decline in tourism and other economic activity caused by the storm," he stated.
Sablan expects to meet with Moyer today for a detailed briefing on the data.
“I am looking forward to getting the story behind the GDP headline number from Dr. Moyer,” Sablan said. “The information that BEA produces for the Marianas and the other U.S. insular areas is a key tool for policymakers both in Washington and here at home. It also lets the public know whether our economy is headed in the right direction.”
According to the BEA press release, exports of services decreased 38.8% due to a decrease in visitor spending, including on casino gambling. Revenues from casino gambling dropped over 50%. The number of visitors to the CNMI decreased 21.5%, reflecting Yutu's effects.