New CofC board focuses on Puerto Rico’s demographic challenges
The Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce (CofC) plans to work on an agenda this year that is a “little different” and more aligned with what its president, Ramón Pérez-Blanco, said will be an interesting year, touching on some public policy issues including how the organization plans to address significant outmigration from the island.
“Another topic we want to focus on this year is the demographic challenges that have been covered by all media outlets,” Pérez-Blanco said in a virtual roundtable with business reporters. “We acknowledge that it is a challenge Puerto Rico faces and we think the private sector has perhaps been a little shy in realizing the magnitude, the severity of the impact this has and which affects all sectors in Puerto Rico.”
Puerto Rico “has lost” around 600,000 people over the past 10 years, and the projection is that about 400,000 more people will leave by 2030, bringing many challenges to the island, he said.
“The Chamber of Commerce and other fellow associations are going to measure and try to find public policy solutions to be able to show [political] candidates when the time comes next year, things they might be able to consider in their political platforms to try and halt and reverse the tendency of the demographic contraction,” he said.
When asked by News is my Business how the CofC plans to address the related challenges, Pérez-Blanco said that the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) has documented the “problem very well and what we are lacking are the possible solutions.”
“We think that Puerto Rico has an opportunity of being able to repopulate by looking into the diaspora,” he said. “So, we are going to commission a study with various affiliated entities to measure two segments of the population; one being the Puerto Ricans that have returned to the island in recent years, why they returned and what motivated them to come back. And the other angle will focus on the diaspora that has thought about coming back but hasn’t. So, it’s going to be a costly study, it will be a qualitative and quantitative study and we hope to have the results of the study in early 2024.”
The study of the diaspora will form a platform for the creation of public policy proposals to draw the population back to the island. Pérez-Blanco said that once the CoC has data on why people left and stayed abroad, the chamber should be positioned to assist in crafting public policy that incentivizes that population to return to the island.
“The Chamber of Commerce has in its membership over 30 associated affiliates, so what we propose to do is to activate those entities with the expertise they have and the different sectors they represent to be able to insert ourselves in different public policy topics, but not only with our opinion but with foundation,” Pérez-Blanco said.
The CofC also plans on activating the Third Sector Council to strengthen ties with the community, nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). They likewise intend to resume the work of the CofC Foundation and collaborate with the affiliated entities.
D.C. on the agenda
The CofC is also reinserting itself in lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., Pérez-Blanco said that Puerto Rico depends “a lot on federal funds.” Another priority will be to strengthen the lobbying efforts of the CofC and affiliated entities at the U.S. capital.
“The private sector has to be inserted in different public policy topics that are discussed at a federal level,” he stressed. “One of the topics is the NAP to SNAP [transition from the Nutrition Assistance Program to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan] that has a lot of components of social aid, but it also has a component of welfare to work, to incentivize beneficiaries that receive those incentives to insert themselves in the workforce.”
The CofC already hired a lobbyist “that knows about” Puerto Rico’s issues to work on these topics in Washington, D.C., he added.
“Puerto Rico needs a strong presence in Washington, D.C. We are going to insert ourselves in these processes from the point of view of free enterprise,” said Liza García, executive director of the CofC. “Topics to be pushed include transitioning from NAP to SNAP, as well as priority health and energy issues.”
The CofC leadership further revealed other details of its work plan for the rest of 2023 and the first half of 2024. The plan is composed of a strategic pillar to strengthen the position of the institution as a “spokesperson for the private sector and to attract new members.”
“One of our priorities is to identify topics, spaces and initiatives for the collaboration of the Chamber of Commerce with other entities, both affiliated associations of the private sector and institutions of the third sector,” Pérez-Blanco added. “Together, we can be much more effective in achieving the goals we have set for ourselves in the development of our economy.”
The business leader explained that the CofC is committed to strengthening its capacity to produce exclusive analyses and studies relevant to the island’s economic development. The studies that are already scheduled for next year include new editions of the business and consumer confidence indexes and the aforementioned demographic challenges study.
The objectives of the plan for the next year also include increasing networking opportunities for entrepreneurs and professionals, holding events exclusively for members, strengthening the role of university chapters and young entrepreneurs, continuing to improve benefits for members, strengthening the Network of Women Entrepreneurs, and increasing membership by 20%.
Among the various initiatives included in the plan is the revision of the concept for the CofC’s annual convention, building on the results obtained with the event held this year.
Pérez-Blanco anticipated that the agenda of the event in 2024 will focus on the discussion of the economic development of Puerto Rico, framed within the dynamics of the public policy proposal generation process that is typical of a preelection period.
One of the CofC’s goals is to have the participation of candidates for key elective positions and demonstrate their commitment to proposals that meet the needs of the private sector and promote the island’s economic development.