Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani urged Puerto Rico leaders to place making the island a secure place to visit, live and do business a top priority, because it will ultimately lead to economic development.
Giuliani was in town Thursday to deliver a keynote speech during the opening day of the Puerto Rico Investment Summit, which drew some 300 international investors interested in learning about the tax incentives and competitive advantages the island has to offer.
During his tenure as mayor of New York City, Giuliani earned high marks for economic growth, a dramatic reversal on crime rates, and his strong leadership following the events of Sept. 11.
“There are many advantages to being in Puerto Rico, not just tax breaks. There’s a tremendous opportunity for growth that’s still there. But safety and security are critical areas, having them in place helped turn New York City around,” he said.
When Giuliani took office in 1993, the city had a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, 2,000 murders a year, a $3 billion deficit and had lost 500,000 jobs.
“My campaign slogan was ‘you can’t do any worse,’ give me a chance and let me turn it around. I knew the first thing I had to turn around was safety and security,” he said. “We had to make it a safe place for people to come.”
By the time he left office after two terms, the unemployment rate was down to 5 percent and 500,000 people were off welfare. To achieve those results, Giuliani said he applied technology and worked partly with the private sector to spur initiatives to clean up the city.
At present, New York City’s murder rate is down to 380 a year, he said, crediting his successor Michael Bloomberg for continuing a number of initiatives he had left in place.
Giuliani said Puerto Rico is an island people want to come to without having to do much convincing.
“Over the past two years homicides have gone down dramatically to 26 or 27 per 100,000, and other crimes have gone down as well. Some of your iconic areas are pretty safe,” he said.
In his address, Giuliani placed special emphasis on keeping those so-called “iconic areas” safe and clean.
“Concentrate on Condado beach, Old San Juan, Miramar…those main areas,” he said. “If you make those areas safe and clean, if you improve the quality of life in those areas alone, it will lift Puerto Rico,” he said. “All of the discussions you’re having about taxes and advantages and investments don’t mean anything if people don’t feel safe.”
“Feeling safe is a critical component, particularly when people want to relocate businesses and come to live somewhere,” said Giuliani, who since leaving public office has emerged as a leader in strategic consulting, emergency preparedness and leadership through his firm Giuliani Partners.
As New York City became a safer place to live and do business, economic development began to flourish, he said.
“I urge you as part of economic development to think of safety and improving it,” he said. “Also, you have to advertise it, don’t assume people know it, and don’t assume people do a terribly good job of distinguishing Puerto Rico from other Latin American countries. A lot of them don’t know it’s part of America.”
Finally, he said that moving things forward depends on having the “political will” to do it.
“This has to come from the people, businesses and the government. If all three want to make Puerto Rico by far the safest destination in the United States, Latin America, or anywhere, you need the political will to do it,” Giuliani concluded, drawing applause from a crowd that did not necessarily include local decision-makers.