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Puerto Rico hosts summit to boost local and federal contracting

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, along with federal and local officials, attended the Elevate Summit: Business Growth Opportunities | Local & Federal Contracting at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan’s Miramar sector, a two-day event hosted by the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC).

Among the participants at Monday’s event were Ric Elías, CEO of Red Ventures, the largest digitization company in the U.S.; Jackie Robinson Burnette, associate administrator at the Small Business Administration’s Office of Government Contracting and Business Development; Exodie Roe, associate administrator at the General Services Administration’s Office of Small Business; and Valentina Pirazzi Márquez, project manager, Small Business Innovation Research at the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust.

The summit, the first this year focusing on business growth, aimed to provide tools to help entrepreneurs expand their businesses sustainably and stimulate the island’s economic development.

“Elevate Summit will be a unique event that will provide entrepreneurs with the opportunity to discover new markets, establish professional contacts, exchange ideas and strengthen their business connections,” DDEC Secretary Manuel Cidre stated. “Building a business requires preparation, and we want to provide entrepreneurs with the necessary information and guidance to achieve success and explore new business sectors.”

The first day’s agenda concentrated on new opportunities in local and federal government business, targeting entrepreneurs looking to begin or expand business relations. A matchmaking platform was available for entrepreneurs to showcase their goods or services.

The event also featured conferences with federal government officials discussing best practices in federal sales and contracting, growth through subcontracting and joint ventures, and strategies for approaching a contracting officer.

Pierluisi reviewed the successes of his administration, which followed years of economic challenges and natural disasters, as part of his participation in the Elevate Summit. 

“The past three years have brought us recovery, revitalization and economic growth unlike anything we’ve seen in decades,” Pierluisi said. “That is the new identity of Puerto Rico. Our economy has consistently grown during this four-year term and we have a positive outlook for the next 10 years.”

Before the summit, Pierluisi met with U.S. Commerce Deputy Secretary Don Graves to support local initiatives, including PRopósito and economic dialogues between federal and state governments.

As a “firm believer” of the importance of federal government procurement for local businesses, Pierluisi recalled his time as resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., in 2011, when the Federal Contracting Center was created by the DDEC to facilitate local businesses doing business with the federal government. Since then, the center has collaborated to ensure that federal agencies, particularly the Small Business Administration (SBA), foster opportunities for local businesses to do business with the federal government.

“It is an important market for Puerto Rico, especially because we are an American jurisdiction that can serve the federal government with great cost-effectiveness and expertise,” Pierluisi said. “That represents a significant impact on our economy and continues to be a focus of opportunities for our people. Puerto Rico is now a destination for growth and progress, and we will foster the exploitation of all available opportunities.”

Last year, Puerto Rico’s Economic Activity Index grew by 3.3 percent, the most significant increase in five years. The governor indicated that strategic investment of federal and state funds promoted economic development, with records in the manufacturing, tourism and technology sectors. He added that manufacturing Matching Indexes are reflecting the highest numbers since 2009, and for 33 consecutive months, unprecedented growth has been recorded.

The governor stated: “Undoubtedly, our greatest asset is the capacity of our human capital. That’s why today we have 124,000 additional jobs and the largest workforce in 16 years, when there were 500,000 more people in Puerto Rico. In addition, unemployment is at 5.7 percent, the lowest rate in our history. These are indisputable figures, and we know that these successes promote more successes. 

“To this end, from the government, and in collaboration with the federal government, we are promoting important initiatives that support our businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] in Puerto Rico, which are the backbone of our economy. Our SMEs have been able to benefit from grants, low-interest loans, and disaster incentives.”

The SBA, through the U.S. Treasury’s State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), capitalized the Economic Development Bank (EDB) to support more than 3,000 SMEs. Another key program is the Small Business Financing Program (SBF), part of the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provided grants to thousands of small businesses in Puerto Rico.

Pierliuisi explained: “These funds were allocated to help our SMEs in purchasing equipment, for operating expenses and hiring and for the retention of employees. So far, $125 million in grants have been awarded, impacting nearly 2,800 small businesses in Puerto Rico. 

“We are also promoting the Smart Island Initiative, which has an investment of nearly a $1 billion in state and federal funds, and which will be deploying high-speed internet throughout the island over a five-year period. The initiative includes making all the necessary efforts to advance our main goals: connectivity, quality, accessibility and knowledge.”

The local government is implementing the 21st Century Techforce initiative with a $50 million investment to develop a skilled workforce in technology, anticipating that software development and artificial intelligence will be among the most in-demand jobs in the next decade. 

“That’s why we set the goal of adding 50,000 new qualified workers and 30,000 graduates to the digital industry during this decade,” he said.

In tourism, the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) and Discover Puerto Rico have been instrumental in promoting tourism across the island’s 78 municipalities, impacting more than 5,000 companies in the sector with more than 94,000 jobs, the highest number in the island’s history.

Pierluisi also highlighted the reconstruction of Puerto Rico as an opportunity for local businesses to provide services and products for modernization efforts. 

“Energy, transportation, aqueducts, health, housing and education projects lead our efforts to build the future of progress we all want. With over 10,000 public and private projects underway throughout the island, we are looking for local leaders to continue advancing reconstruction with the sustainability our people deserve,” the governor said. 

“The resilience of the Puerto Rican people is unbreakable, and each of us plays a fundamental role in promoting Puerto Rico’s progress. Everything we have achieved has been possible thanks to you, our entrepreneurs and innovators who have been the main players in the growth we are seeing on our island. It is important to celebrate what we have achieved and thus inspire more achievements, more progress and more opportunities. All of this with the aim of making Puerto Rico a more attractive place to live, invest, work and retire,” Pierluisi concluded.

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