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Centro Gran Caribe in Vega Alta gets $23M USDA loan guarantee

The Centro Gran Caribe shopping center in Vega Alta was recently approved for a $23.2 million investment through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantees program, which offers guarantees to lenders for their loans to rural businesses.

These funds will be used to provide additional financing for the shopping center, which has a combination of national and local retailers. The business plans to use the money to refinance and pay off existing debt. This project will save 22 jobs, Karama Neal, administrator of Rural Business-Cooperative Service at the agency, told News is my Business in an exclusive interview.

“They’re working with the lender that will provide the loan, and what we as the agency will do is guarantee 80% of it,” she said. “On the off chance that something happens and they’re not able to repay, the agency will be able to then cover 80%, which means that what we’re doing is helping make capital available for small businesses in Puerto Rico. A lender is more likely to assume that risk if they know that they have a guarantee backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.”

This is one of more than a handful of allocations that USDA Rural is making in Puerto Rico, which Neal said come from three programs: the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee, Rural Business Development Grants (RBDG), and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

With RBDG, USDA Rural has obligated $100,000 to the Fondo de Inversión y Desarrollo Cooperativo Inc. (FIDECOOP) to provide for 20 rural cooperatives in Puerto Rico with leadership training, technical assistance to increase knowledge on pre-and post-grantsmanship, and federal fund management.

Also, 10 rural cooperatives will receive a feasibility study through an “Energy Assessment/Energy Audit,” including procedures, analysis and recommendations for implementing several energy conservation projects, Neal added.

The outcome will ensure rural residents’ access to programs and benefit rural communities by expanding services and creating 40 jobs. The projections estimate $2 million in economic growth.

“This will help ensure those residents access to the programs and facilitate economic development in the region. This is one of these programs, again, where we work with these intermediary agencies that then go out and provide personalized services because they know their community best,” Neal said.

Another recipient under the RBDG program is the Oficina para la Promoción y el Desarrollo Humano Inc. (OPDH), which will receive $31,815 to support a business incubator that will educate 20 participants and provide group technical assistance to develop business skills to improve business operations by creating plans with marketing strategies.

“I got to announce this one in person when I was in Puerto Rico last week and it will help provide education for participants and technical assistance for those businesses so that they can grow,” Neal said.

Furthermore, the Puerto Rico Manufacturing Extension Inc. (Primex) will benefit from the RBDG program with a $221,185 grant to be used in a technical assistance project that supports 76 businesses across 13 rural municipalities.

“In many cases, businesses, as they’re starting up, as they’re expanding, as they’re developing a new line of business or maybe considering going into a new [area], may need some technical assistance to help make sure they’re making those decisions using all the best information. These kinds of technical assistance grants put organizations like Primex in a good position to help those businesses,” Neal said.

Additional grants
The agency also announced two more grants under the REAP program, totaling $208,574. These will benefit agricultural businesses in Adjuntas and Hatillo. The grants will cover up to 50% of the energy efficiency project that each business proposed, Neal said.

Specifically, Hacienda Tres Angeles, a coffee farm in Adjuntas, received $110,240 for its project. It will be using the funds to purchase and install a 38 kilowatt (kW) solar energy system with backup battery storage. In all, the company will save $37,000 per year. The total cost of the project is $275,600.

Finally, Sucn. Espinosa Rivera Inc., a dairy farm in Hatillo, will receive $98,334 to help purchase and install a 22.5 kW photovoltaic solar system with a backup energy storage system. The project will save the business $33,600 annually and produce 96,000 kilowatt-hours, enough energy to power eight homes. The project’s full cost is $245,835.

Beneficiaries have two years to utilize the funds before the money must be returned to the agency unless an extension is approved.

Neal said that during her first visit to Puerto Rico, she was able to observe “great progress” in the island’s adoption of renewable energy. She made stops in San Juan, Caguas, Coamo and Adjuntas.

“It was helpful to see how these programs are being used in Puerto Rico. It was particularly helpful to see how important the energy work and the access to power are, and what really great work Puerto Rico has done in its commitment to energy efficiency,” Neal concluded.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 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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