2018: Starting down Puerto Rico’s road to economic prosperity
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In 2017, Puerto Rico suffered the most critical disaster in 100 years when it sustained a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. But while our priority and focus remains on saving lives, restoring basic services to the most vulnerable segments of our society and helping businesses return to normal operations, we must also look to the future of the new, stronger 21st century Puerto Rico we will build in 2018 and beyond. Now is the time to look to the future, not the past, and to tackle these challenges head-on in order to facilitate the investments necessary for Puerto Rico to not only recover, but evolve and modernize its infrastructure and economy.

We must dream big about the future of Puerto Rico’s economy – and 2018 is the year to do that. The hurricanes did not destroy Puerto Rico’s strongest economic assets – our people, our resiliency, our location and our incentives – and we now have the opportunity to add to these assets with new, state-of-the-art systems to power the next phase of Puerto Rico’s story. For these reasons, companies like Microsoft, Lufthansa, Bacardi, Walmart, Medtronic, Amgen and Sartorious have long invested in Puerto Rico and are committed to continuing to do so through hurricane relief and recovery. By creating a resilient electrical grid, partnering with private industry to modernize our infrastructure, implementing island-wide broadband, and updating our health care and skills education systems, we can create a 21st century Puerto Rico with its own thriving economy.

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We’ve already seen these methods work in Puerto Rico, and we’ve only begun to tap their potential. Earlier this year, Puerto Rico held a successful Public-Private Partnerships Summit (P3 Summit) that attracted more than 850 investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders from around the world to discuss ways that the island can leverage public-private partnerships to modernize Puerto Rico’s energy systems, waterways, highways and ports without adding to public debt. In fact, Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, a public-private partnership, recently won gold for best operational project at the P3 Awards. As we look to rebuild, Puerto Rico has the opportunity to use these successes as a model to embark on its economic transformation in technology, infrastructure and health care with support from private sector partners.    

Before the storms hit, we had already taken bold steps to jumpstart our economy, attract investment, streamline permitting, simplify labor laws, balance our budget and restore confidence in our government. We prioritized positioning Puerto Rico as a competitive investment market by creating Invest Puerto Rico and the Destination Marketing Organization, programs focusing exclusively on the promotion of Puerto Rico as an investment and tourism destination respectively. Under our business accelerator program Parallel18, we have also hosted 97 startups from more than 10 different countries, building capacity for companies to grow and innovate. Because of this, I am more optimistic than ever about opportunities for growth for 2018.

In addition to the many features and opportunities that make Puerto Rico an attractive American investment jurisdiction, we recently updated our incentive laws to make it easier for potential investors to take advantage of our aggressive local tax benefits. As Puerto Rico recovers, we are reiterating our commitment to these opportunities for business and investment. We removed job creation requirements for companies exporting services from the island, and made federally funded technology startups eligible to earn research and development tax credits. At the same time, we have streamlined the application and compliance process for new residents to receive tax exemption on passive assets and the Department of Economic Development and Commerce has committed to processing applications in 30 days or less. 

More than 1,000 new resident investors already relocated to Puerto Rico and are benefiting from recent policy changes, amounting to more than $500 million in assets held in Puerto Rico and creating an average of 2.5 jobs created per investor. They join the ranks of companies in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, information technology, finance and creative services, as well as many investors living in Puerto Rico with their families. All of us in both the local and federal, public and private sectors must work together to realize Puerto Rico’s potential.

To investors interested in joining Puerto Rico’s economic transformation by establishing or relocating their companies in Puerto Rico, we invite you to learn more about the many unique business opportunities that Puerto Rico offers and the ways that they can be a part of Puerto Rico’s bright future. You join the ranks of companies like Tesla, Google and Amazon who are considering how investments in Puerto Rico’s recovery – from renewable energy to business innovations – can be a part of our brighter future.

Puerto Rico will not languish in recovery or look to reconstruct the past, but rather we will work tirelessly in 2018 to create a new, stronger and better Puerto Rico, because our paradise performs.

Laboy is the secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DEDC).