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As ’19 comes to a close, sectors review milestones of past 10 years

As the year comes to a close, representatives from a cross-section of Puerto Rico’s economic sectors offered their impressions of the most significant events of the past decade.

The nonprofit sector
In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane María in September 2017, nonprofit organizations became the first responders, which was “an unanticipated and highly necessary response, which for many represented the difference between life and death, while the government remained inoperative for weeks,” said Nelson I. Colón-Tarrats, president of the Puerto Rico Community Foundation.

“In addition, it is necessary to highlight the immense support the island received from the diaspora to respond to the aftermath of the atmospheric event,” he said.

Prior to the emergency caused by the deadly storm, the Puerto Rico Community Foundation marked its 30th anniversary in 2015, 30 men and women received the Maestro Rafael Cordero Prize for their perseverance and struggle. The group included Roberto Pérez-Santoni, known as Papo Christian, for leading the campaign against stray bullets.

That same year, the Estudios Técnicos firm published the fourth edition of the Puerto Rico Nonprofit Organizations study, which provided a snapshot of the sector and its contributions.

Another milestone took place this year, when the Puerto Rico Community Foundatio launched the first scholarship for young people of African descent in Puerto Rico: the Benito Massó Scholarship Fund for Young People of Loíza.

“The initiative marks a milestone because attention has never been given to that issue before. It has been an achievement to have ignited this flame, and now we’re looking to keep it through donors willing to invest in the development of young people from Loíza,” he said.

A major investment in retail
Puerto Rico’s retail sector and its supply chain came together in 2018, to boost activity through an initiative headed by Walmart Puerto Rico.

Last year, the retailer announced that it would increase by an additional $20 million its investment in the purchase of locally grown, processed or manufactured products by 2023, as part of its commitment to contribute to the island’s economic development and the well-being of its communities through the creation and retention of jobs and the promotion of commercial activity.

To achieve this goal, during the past two years, Walmart has carried out the “Puerto Rico Open Call” program, a platform that helps grow local entrepreneurs and, at the same time, expand the chain’s portfolio of suppliers.

The result of this effort represents about 200 new products and services that are sold to the public at Walmart, Sam’s Club and Supermarket Amigo stores, including a vast majority of items that replace previously imported merchandise.

As a result, more than 180 local entrepreneurs from different industries and services have grown their companies, which also strengthen island’s economy.

“In addition to the ‘Puerto Rico Open Call,’ Walmart continues betting on the present and the future of the island by investing tens of millions of dollars in the reconstruction and updating of its stores after the passage of Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017 to continue serving Puerto Rican families, so that they can save more and live better,” Walmart officials said.

A decade of transformation in telecom
Liberty Puerto Rico CEO Naji Khoury summed up the decade in one word: transformation.

The company started the decade a regional company based in Luquillo that covered 37 municipalities with 400 employees, had 330,000 customers, and offered Internet speeds of up to 30Mbps.

Since then, it has acquired two companies — OneLink in 2012 and Choice in 2014 — expanded its staff to more than 900 employees and its products and services are now available throughout all of Puerto Rico with more than 1 million homes passed. The company also offers broadband speeds of up to 500Mbps.

In 2018, Liberty Puerto Rico was spun-off from parent company Liberty Global into a newly created public company called Liberty Latin America (LLA). LLA has a strong focus on innovation and growth and is specifically dedicated to investing in our region. This relationship has already added significant value for Liberty Puerto Rico.

“Part of our transformation during this last decade was a renewed focus on our people and culture to offer an exceptional employee experience that, in turn, leads to great customer experience,” Khoury said.

The company also faced its biggest challenge this decade, when it had to recover its services in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.

“This was an extraordinary test that the entire company faced as one team. Our resilience, determination and amazing dedication allowed us not only to recover from the devastating storms but come back stronger than before,” Khoury said.

“Along the recovery journey, we grew stronger as a team and as a family, united to face whatever challenges we might be faced with,” he said.

Now, the company waits to close on its intended acquisition of AT&T’s assets in Puerto Rico and the USVI, which was announced in October.

“It will transform Liberty Puerto Rico into a quadruple play company, placing us on an even playing field with our competitor. Not only will this transaction bring added benefits for consumers, it will also transform the communication infrastructures in Puerto Rico and the USVI into more robust and resilient ones,” he said.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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