The global currents and economic challenges of the private sector, which have generated a sort of pessimism that focuses on only one part of the current reality, have significantly affected Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector, Economic Development and Commerce Secretary José Pérez-Riera said.
However, he believes not everything is as black as it seems, especially when the island’s current condition is contrasted against one of its long-time competitors in the manufacturing sector: Ireland.
“Ireland … a country that we saw as a role model in terms of industrial promotion, is in a rather delicate situation, with a banking sector on the verge of collapse and with credit classified as junk, with all that that implies for its development and capacity to attract investment,” he said.
“Meanwhile, Puerto Rico remains a highly attractive jurisdiction for the manufacturing sector … and to use the example of the pharmaceutical industry … to date, 13 of the top 20 best selling medicines in the United States continue to be produced on the island,” he noted, during the third edition of the government’s Economic Development and Commerce Summit held at the Sheraton Convention Center hotel Tuesday.
In the last two years, he said, the government has promoted 208 projects by 274 companies representing an investment of more than $522 million and 11,738 new or retained jobs, he said.
“We all know that the manufacturing sector is of great importance to our economy … it creates jobs, contributes greatly to the island’s growth and allows us to encourage investment of foreign capital,” Pérez-Riera said, pointing out that manufacturing is one of the most important well-paid, full-time job sources.
To keep the fire burning under the sector, the public official said the administration is promoting 65 new industrial projects that could represent an investment of $789 million and the creation of 5,000 additional jobs.
“But we know we can do much more … Recognizing our strengths and limitations, and facing the sea of opportunities that exist within and outside Puerto Rico, we have been working on a new industrial promotion program that has as one of its objectives to increase investment by companies in the life sciences sector and ensure that Puerto Rico continues to be a major destination for investment in this sector,” he said.
To achieve that, the government is showcasing the island’s incentives to attract new development, storage and distribution industries requiring a high level of scientific, technological and management skills.
It is generally known that Puerto Rico has been somewhat limping along in attracting science and technology activity. However, Pérez-Riera said the island is about to take a step forward with a bill that is on its way to La Fortaleza to help increase resources assigned to achieving those efforts.
Globalizing Puerto Rico’s scope
“For years, we have dedicated ourselves to pursuing opportunities with companies in the U.S. However, globalization forces us to look to new horizons in search of new businesses,” he said. “Puerto Rico is without a doubt, an extremely attractive investment destination for companies in Latin America and Europe.”
That said, manufacturing representatives have begun promoting the island in places like Venezuela, Spain and soon, Brazil and Germany to drum up new business opportunities.
However, attracting foreign investment is not the only goal, he said.
“We’re also looking to facilitate the creation and development of local enterprises. With the local and global economic changes, many people have become aware of the opportunities that exist to develop products that can meet local needs and abroad,” Pérez-Riera noted. “Our goal is to provide these companies with the tools so they can develop and produce an attractive and competitive product.”
Working with private sector
As in prior instances, Pérez-Riera noted the government’s intention of working closely with the private sector and opposing party members to reactive the island’s economy.
Part of that effort includes working together to lobby and get the Puerto Rico Investment Promotion Act approved in Washington. The administration has also assembled a manufacturing advisory council to help come up with strategies to retain, expand and diversify the existing industrial base and attract manufacturing of high-value products based on research and development and high technology.
The group includes Sergio Blanco, president of Lanco Manufacturing, Edgardo Fábregas, former Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association President, Esteban Santos, of Amgen Inc., Miguel Pagán Fernández, general manager of Merck-Las Piedras, Lucy Crespo, general manager of Hewlett Packard in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico Products Association President Vicente Sánchez, and Juan Carlos Kuang, general manager of Boston Scientific.