Hurricane María’s devastating impact on Puerto Rico could eventually ring positive for the island’s economy, which has been crippled by a 12-year recession and the recent catastrophic storm.
But, it will take at least six to nine months before that becomes evident, Aurelio Alemán, president of FirstBank Puerto Rico said Sunday.
“There are industries that have been suffering in recent years, such as construction, which may see benefits in the wake of this storm. It’s an industry that can see a rebirth, given the amount of reconstruction work that needs to be done,” he said in an interview with this media outlet.
“There will be a high demand for workers and cement sales, which have been spiraling, will see growth,” he said.
Without dismissing the gravity of the situation, Alemán said Puerto Rico will benefit from federal funds, as well as insurance policies that will eventually cover claims. That money, he said, will be used to reinvest in Puerto Rico.
However, he said certain sectors, such as small businesses with low levels of reserves, could be hard-hit by this storm.
“It’s really to early to tell what the real impact will be. As for banking, we have a lot of capital and are prepared. This is no worse than the recession we’ve been experiencing,” he added.
As for how the bank fared before, during and after the hurricane, Alemán said the main lesson learned was the need to develop a new way to handle logistics.
“We’ve had to redesign our logistics. Nobody planned for a long stretch of time without communications. We had to come up with a new supply chain, and during the first days after the hurricane, that supply chain included providing food to our employees,” he said.
Alemán said FirstBank had a “rehearsal” to deal with what would come after the devastating impact Hurricane Irma had on the U.S. Virgin Islands 10 days before María struck Puerto Rico.
The financial institution has 11 branches in the USVI, of which seven are already operational.
“We have 200 employees over there, of which 40 lost all of their belongings. We delivered food, power generators, water and construction materials to help them pick back up. If our employees cannot make it to work, the operation cannot run,” Alemán added.
So, when the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, the bank was — for better or for worse — somewhat prepared.
Of the bank’s 48 branches, 36 are already open. While all of its 2,000 Puerto Rico employees have been accounted for, some have had significant losses, he said.
“We’ve provided hotel rooms and food, among other things,” he said.
As for the exodus that has been taking place in Puerto Rico post-María, Alemán believes it “is not something permanent. I think that as soon as the power comes back, people will return.”