Representatives from 20 Puerto Rican trade associations said Tuesday they are ready to work with the government to jump-start the island’s economic development, proposing specific strategies to move things along.
The group, which recently met with Gov. García-Padilla, recommended the creation of an economic development board — independent from the administration’s proposed financial control board — with participation from the private sector, which would establish what is needed to make businesses grow.
The board would be operational for 10 years, and would serve as a platform for recommendations that could become public policy, said José Vázquez-Barquet, president of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizations comprising the Private Sector Coalition that has reconvened to work with the government.
The board would drive a number of priorities the group said would “jumpstart” the island’s economy.
Carlos Rivera, president of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, said the board would pursue attracting foreign investments, developing local industrial and commercial capital that would stay and multiply in Puerto Rico and emphasizing on exports.
“We know what needs to be done and we’ve been called upon to lead that economic development plan for Puerto Rico, and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and work together on it,” said Rivera.
Meanwhile, Ricky Castro, president of the Puerto Rico Marketing, Industry and Food Distribution Chamber (known as MIDA in Spanish), said the group is also ready to work on labor and permit reforms, “which are two stumbling blocks for growth.”
“MIDA has spent many years saying that Puerto Rico needs a labor reform based on the fact that the island cannot be at the same level with the U.S. mainland with all of the benefits we have by law,” said Castro. “We’re exceed what exists in the U.S.”
Benefits such as a mandatory Christmas bonus and extended probation periods do not promote productivity, he said.
“We ask that this issue be looked at carefully to be able to spur economic development, perhaps with laws that apply prospectively and don’t affect current employees,” he said, adding the goal is to set the stage for companies to be able to hire more people and improve the island’s labor participation rate, which stands at less than 40 percent.
On the permits side, the group is asking the government to enforce existing laws that require simple approvals to be issued in 24 hours and those requiring additional authorizations from agencies such as the Health and Fire Departments to be issued in the established 36-hour period.
Francisco Montalvo, the coordinator of the Private Sector Coalition, said the governor seemed receptive to collaborating with the professional groups to come up with strategies to spur economic development on the short- and long-term, he said.
“He expressed an interest for private sector experts to work with government experts on the different issues. He also expressed an interest in exploring strategic and competitive projects,” Montalvo said.
Other trade association comprising the group includes the Puerto Rico Products Association, the School of Architects and Landscape Architects, the Puerto Rico Farm Bureau; the Puerto Rico Bankers Association; the Puerto Rico Retail Trade Association; the Puerto Rico Association of Insurance Companies; the Homebuilders Association; the Associated General Contractors of America — Puerto Rico Chapter; and, the Puerto Rico Hospitals Association, among others.