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Coalition vying for $100M in ‘Build Back Better Regional Challenge’ funds

The Northwestern Puerto Rico Bio Manufacturing Cluster, led by the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC, in Spanish), is in the running for $100 million in funds available through the US Economic Development Administration’s “Build Back Better Regional Challenge.”

The federal agency confirmed that 60 finalists have been short-listed for the program that has $1 billion available to “boost economic pandemic recovery and rebuild American communities, including some that have been grappling with decades of disinvestment.”

The finalists chosen from a pool of more than 500 proponents will each receive a grant of approximately $500,000 to develop their proposed projects.

“These grants will help the finalists take their projects to the next level and position those who ultimately do not receive Phase 2 implementation awards to find new partners and sources of funding,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo.

Finalists will now compete for Phase 2 of the Challenge, which will award 20-30 regional coalitions up to $100 million to implement between three and eight projects that support an industry sector. The deadline for Phase 2 is Mar. 15, 2022.

In its proposal, the Northwestern Puerto Rico Bio Manufacturing Cluster seeks to address several industry concerns, including workforce development training, efficient logistics systems maintenance, and infrastructure (warehouse and cargo) challenges.

It will pursue seven projects to support the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, including building warehouse facilities, constructing a cargo access road, developing workforce development programs, and creating an industrywide logistics system.

The local coalition is comprised by InvestPR, the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, the University of Puerto Rico Molecular Sciences Research Center, and ALMMII/LIFT.

The largest project included in its proposal is the construction of $25 million warehousing facilities at the Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla, to support manufacturers and freight company logistics needs.

Second on the list is the construction of a cargo access road in Aguadilla feeding into the airport, at a projected cost of $17.5 million. The goal of that project is to “enhance efficiency in cargo operations reducing impact on passenger operations.”

“Removing cargo from passenger traffic improves passenger experience; increased connectivity provides more passenger flights with belly capacity for cargo,” according to the proposal.

Next on the list is building a network of CIEV certified pharmaceutical trade lanes that meet consistent standards and assure product integrity, assured by having trained staff at all levels. That proposal carries a $1.5 million investment.

Another proposal calls for formalizing an organizational model to head Puerto Rico’s cargo strategy setting and execution, at a cost of $500,000.

The coalition is also looking to develop an industrywide logistics interconnected system, fed by specialized sensors in facilities and equipment, entailing a $1 million investment.

Another $5 million is being sought to support equipment acquisition for facilities developed by ALMMII/LIFT institute Puerto Rico.

“These facilities will help manufacturers develop new products and processes and will prepare workforce for said technologies,” the coalition stated in its proposal.

Another proposal entailing a $6 million investment is on the list, to install a clean room at the UPR Molecular Sciences Research Center for use by existing manufacturers and startups.

“Local new product development makes local manufacturing likely,” the coalition stated.

Several government agencies, including Ports, the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP, in Spanish), and DDEC stated they would have matching funds available for the different proposals. If funded, the projects would get underway as early as November 2022, and be completed by October 2025.

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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