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Foundation for P.R. seeks to boost economic dev’t in 50 island communities

Annie Mayol

The Foundation for Puerto Rico unveiled in Orocovis the preliminary results of its pilot “Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative” pilot project, which aims at social and economic development of communities “to make the island a destination for the world.”

The nonprofit invested more than $500,000 in the initiative in Orocovis.

“To accelerate sustainable recovery, Puerto Rico needs strong economic growth. After Hurricanes Irma and María, it was clear that communities were being left behind, so we needed to create opportunities to meet their basic needs, for them to have the necessary infrastructure and to devise a common and inclusive strategic plan to integrate their resources and key assets,” said Annie Mayol, Foundation for Puerto Rico president.

“For this reason, Foundation for Puerto Rico seeks to replicate this model in 50 communities across Puerto Rico in coming years,” she said.

The “Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative” aims to speed up Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts using the visitor economy as a key strategy to make the island a resilient destination.

To achieve this, the nonprofit identified four key impact areas to address in the short- and long- term — basic and infrastructure needs; support for small businesses; social capital; and marketing and advertising.

After gathering information and pre-selecting a dozen locations, Foundation for Puerto Rico chose the mountain town of Orocovis, Punta Santiago in Humacao and Aguadilla/Isabela to launch the pilot project.

In January, Foundation staff began identifying people, businesses and organizations deemed crucial for the area’s economic and social development. Mayor Jesús Colón-Berlingeri and community surveys, among others, uncovered specific needs to boost a drop in visits and business in that town.

In collaboration with the Center for Entrepreneurship, Foundation for Puerto Rico awarded 31 grants to small businesses in the first two months of the program, totaling $77,000. They also provided 120 hours of technical assistance on business topics

According to the latest data, all businesses located in the public square and reached pre-Hurricane María sales levels, while the shops along the “Ruta de la Longaniza” reached 78 percent.

As far as infrastructure and basic needs, Foundation for Puerto Rico teamed up with Por Los Nuestros — a citizen-driven initiative — and Oxfam to install five water tanks and distribute nearly 100 household filters to residents and small businesses.

“In total, Orocovis can currently produce more than 11,000 gallons of potable water, without relying on the Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority,” said Alma Frontera, director of projects and strategic partnerships at Foundation for Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, the lack of electricity in public spaces became an obstacle for small businesses, because they were forced to close early, which resulted in lower sales, Foundation studies showed.

To fix this, the nonprofit installed 81 solar lamps in 39 businesses, which meant an average increase in sales of three hours and 20 extra customers a week per store.

“When more people visit, invest, work and live in an area, economic activity is multiplied significantly, resulting in economic growth in a long chain of industries,” said Arnaldo Cruz, director of research and analysis for Foundation for Puerto Rico.

The next steps for the pilot program is to draft a comprehensive destination development plan.

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

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