The “eyes and ears” of the island’s small business community in Washington D.C., Teresa Coaxum, spent last week in Puerto Rico looking to bridge the disconnect between the local public and private sector and the federal benefits and information they may be missing out on for a lack of awareness or access.
During her stay, Coaxum met with representatives from the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, the Food Marketing Industry and Distribution Chamber (known as MIDA for its initials in Spanish), several lawmakers, and La Fortaleza officials to get specifics about their concerns, which she said ranged from regulatory issues to a need for metrics.
“Businesses were open and pretty clear about saying that they welcome us helping them figure out federal regulations. They expressed an interest in the reports we provide and additional metrics for small businesses, through which they can highlight some of the importance of what they’re doing here,” said Coaxum, who traveled to the island that is part of her office’s jurisdiction.
Coaxum was appointed in January to her position as regional advocate for the Office of Advocacy’s Region II, covering the states of New York, New Jersey, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The Office of Advocacy is an independent voice for small business within the federal government.
“Small businesses help our economy grow and prosper; they are the cornerstone of our communities,” she said upon being ushered into her position as liaison between the SBA and small businesses in her region.
During her meeting with members of MIDA, Coaxum said she got a sense for their existing concerns regarding shipping regulations and how they play into the ability of local companies to export their products to the U.S. and abroad.
“We’ll be looking into that issue as well as other regulatory concerns that the Chamber of Commerce brought up in a separate meeting I had with them,” Coaxum said, while mentioning some of the findings she uncovered during her first “listening tour” to Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico is very different and I need to make sure that I understand it and be able to communicate the information that I get quickly back to Washington,” she noted.
Her trip complemented President Barack Obama’s visit to the island last week, and the subsequent Economic Development Summit held as part of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status.
“Most of the issues that came up had to do with manufacturing and exporting, which is to be expected as Puerto Rico is the hub for that in the Caribbean,” she said. “My job is to deliver their concerns to the federal regulatory agencies and making sure small businesses in Puerto Rico have a voice in Washington.”