The new president of the Associated General Contractors, Puerto Rico Chapter, Stephen Spears, said Thursday in his inaugural speech that the trade group will “vigorously defend” the use of local contractors, sub-contractors and local suppliers to maximize opportunities created by Hurricane María’s devastation.
“To create local wealth, we must ensure preference to local business,” he said, during his swearing-in ceremony in San Juan.
Damage to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure has been estimated at $18.5 billion, including $16.5 billion in housing, $1.6 billion in electrical infrastructure, $200 million in telecommunications and $75 million in water
However, he said Puerto Rico’s construction industry has “the knowledge, proven experience, the ability to innovate and a $2 billion bonding capacity. We are ready to undertake the monumental job of modernizing our infrastructure and transforming Puerto Rico into a world-class investment destination.”
This year, the AGC-PR proposes to continue initiatives to reactivate the construction industry, including working on a list of “vital” infrastructure projects that cover the areas of energy, water, transportation and housing.
“This while doing this defending of the local construction industry and demanding preferential status for local contractors and suppliers of services and goods,” Spears said. “We will work to identify and maximize federal funds to be used to revitalize Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.”
The trade group will also use public-private partnerships to address infrastructure projects. The AGC-PR will promote Puerto Rico in U.S. Congress as an ideal candidate for these types of projects, and has commissioned an in-depth analysis to the Estudios Técnicos firm to present to stateside lawmakers this semester.
In his speech, Spears also addressed the decades-long issue of permitting, a process that has been identified as a stumbling block for progress on the island.
“We need to push to make doing business in Puerto Rico easier. Permitting processes must improve,” he said. “We also need to guarantee the enforcement of contracts. We must increase certainty and transparency.”
Despite Hurricane María’s destruction, Spears said that it has presented an opportunity for the construction sector.
“Immediately after María, our local contractors were the first responders to stabilize the infrastructure, restore telecommunications and power and reconnect communities,” he said, adding that employment in construction may have doubled in the four months since the storm hit.
“This means we have shown the ability to bring back workers who were unemployed due to the lack of projects. We are creating new opportunities for those who have lost their jobs in other trades,” Spears said.
Finally, he said Hurricane María laid bare the lax or nonexistent enforcement of construction codes in Puerto Rico, so the AGC-PR will work to ensure that construction standards are enforced.
“We must pursue the enactment of more stringent storm standards, and to enforce those standards through legislation,” Spears said.