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Build Back Better Regional Challenge coalition meets as proposal moves forward

The proposal by the Northwestern Puerto Rico Bio Manufacturing Cluster, led by the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC, in Spanish), has advanced to the second phase of 60 selected across the nation that are vying for $100 million in funds available through the US Economic Development Administration’s “Build Back Better Regional Challenge.”

To mark that achievement, local and federal government officials recently met with bioscience sector-related organizations in Puerto Rico that are part of that cluster, DDEC Secretary Manuel Cidre confirmed.

“EDA officials wanted to have the opportunity to gather information from the coalition members and other regional stakeholders and to hear directly from community members about what they need to build back better and boost regional economic development,” he said. 

“They are visiting different regions that are finalists within the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, and Puerto Rico is one of them. We’re proud and grateful that they could make it here,” Cidre said.

The meeting included participation from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Don Graves, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, Alejandra Castillo, University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) representatives, government officials and bioscience sector related organizations met at the Jardín Botánico Sur in Río Piedras,

“Puerto Rico and the more than three million Americans living there are an essential piece of the diverse mosaic that makes up our nation and keeps our economy moving forward into the 21st century. Thanks to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, EDA’s programs are helping this beautiful island community to build back better from the pandemic, while enhancing U.S. competitiveness on the global stage and addressing some of our country’s biggest challenges here at home,” said Graves.

“The groundbreaking Build Back Better Regional Challenge, the marque of EDA’s ARP programs, and of which Puerto Rico is a Phase 1 winner, strives to build on this momentum through close cooperation with our regional partners to expand and scale new industry sectors and transform local economies across the nation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Castillo said “The Build Back Better Regional Challenge is helping to drive place-based, cluster oriented, transformational economic development here in Puerto Rico and across our nation.”

“We’re honored to visit and to hear how the coalition came together and could serve as a model for future collaborations,” she said.

During the roundtable, participants discussed matters related to the Coalition’s efforts after Puerto Rico’s s proposal to Build Back Better was selected last December as one of the 60 finalists. They shared impressions about what Building Back Better look like for Puerto Rico, lessons learned from working the proposal for the Build Back Better Challenge, vision for future EDA investments, among other issues.

Puerto Rico’s proposal includes projects aimed at moving its manufacturing to a more sophisticated and advanced sector, with a strong drug and product discovery ecosystem, as well a strong logistics sector. It’s a collaborative effort between InvestPR, Puerto Rico Ports Authority, MSRC, the Science Trust and ALMMII/LIFT.

The EDA subvention is part of the American Rescue Plan to help communities (rural, coastal, and metropolitan) develop resilient local economies.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration (EDA) randomly selected 13 sites to hold “Coalition Conversations” in April and May 2022 to learn more about how regional coalitions are coming together to develop strategies to strengthen their regional economies.

The site visit conversations are with finalists for EDA’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC), the agency’s marquee American Rescue Plan program. However, these conversations will not factor into the BBBRC’s competitive merit review process, which is ongoing and unrelated to the “Coalition Conversations.”

Other roundtable participants were: Lucy Crespo, Puerto Rico’s Science, Technology & Research Trust CEO; David Gulley, Science Trust Technology Transfer Office director; Eduardo Nicolau, the Molecular Science Research Center’s acting executive director; Ubaldo Córdova, UPR’s academic affairs and research executive vice president; Joel Piza, Puerto Rico Ports Authority executive director; John Bozek, Invest Puerto Rico’s director of Research & Strategy; Humberto Mercader, the DDEC’s assistant deputy secretary strategic sector, and Víctor Claudio, ALMMII/LIFT CFO.

Meanwhile, UPR Acting President Mayra Olavarría said the visit by federal and local economic development components to the Molecular Science Research Center that took place prior to the roundtable, “confirms the principal role that the UPR has as the central axis of Puerto Rico’s economic development.”

“We trust that the result of this visit will be the beginning of a collaborative alliance to generate sustainable development initiatives for our island. It’s imperative that all sectors involved in the future of sciences and technology and in the island’s economic development join efforts for the wellbeing of Puerto Rico, today and for the future generations,” she said.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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