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Officials gather in Ponce for federally sponsored economic dev’t training

The in-person portion of a course aimed at giving municipal officials the knowledge and tools needed to help Puerto Rico’s municipalities recover from recent disasters, including tactics for securing funding for transformative projects, concluded Wednesday in Ponce.

The Economic Recovery Support Function (ERSF), one of six functions under the national disaster recovery framework, produced the course. The Department of Commerce coordinates ERSF through the Economic Development Administration.

The event concludes ERSF’s efforts in Puerto Rico. Its work began in November 2017 after Hurricane Maria made landfall, causing about $110 billion in damage to the island. In the years since, EDA has granted Puerto Rico awards totaling more than $111 million to help it recover from Maria. The awards have included 18 projects aimed at creating or retaining more than 43,000 jobs and attracting close to $283 million in private investment.

Participants in the four-day course, “Introduction to Economic Development for Municipalities,” included municipal officials from across Puerto Rico. Twenty-seven municipalities and government organizations, including five mayors, had registered for it. Free to all such personnel, it will continue online on May 12 and 15.

The course is being taught by leading practitioners in the field, including three certified economic developers and is designed to give participants an introduction to the basic principles of economic development and practical ways to apply key concepts.

It includes topics such as Introduction to Economic Development, Municipal Development and Downtown Revitalization, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Economic Development Project Financing. These classes are particularly relevant to city officials as they seek ways to boost local businesses and obtain funds for infrastructure and other projects.

“This training is beneficial because it offers other perspectives,” said Wanda J. Soler-Rosario, the mayor of Barceloneta. “It’s always useful to have examples of how the continental U.S. is developing its economy.”

Barceloneta recently added a bowling alley and Soler-Rosario is now considering an example from Atlanta: indoor, night-time mini golf. “I’m hoping that adding more attractions can improve the city center,” she said.

The course is supplementing ERSF’s work over the past five and a half years to not just help Puerto Rico recover from successive disasters but continue its growth trajectory. Its strategy has included promoting the island as a major air cargo hub, boosting its ocean economy, and helping nonprofits and local partners gain program management skills.

Bianca Quiñones-Otero, the EDA’s Puerto Rico deputy field coordinator, noted that more than 100 representatives of nonprofit organizations and local government staff have received more than 3,000 hours of training, improving their capacity to be economic leaders.

“Officials and nonprofits are using the knowledge they’ve gained to harness available government funds and create an environment for more investment in key sectors of the island’s economy,” said Quiñones-Otero. She applauded the commitment of the officials that attended the course on the first day, noting their willingness to continue to strengthen their knowledge and embrace “a holistic and regional vision” of how development can make their municipalities more prosperous.

Later this year, EDA will officially certify the Southern Puerto Rico Economic Development District (SPREDD) as Puerto Rico’s first regional EDD. It will focus on helping small- and medium- sized entrepreneurs and developing a favorable business climate for the island’s southern region, the agency said.

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

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