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Puerto Rico’s film industry takes $80M hit from COVID-19 pandemic

Puerto Rico’s thriving film industry has taken an $80 million hit from the measures taken to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus, as have many other jurisdictions favored by Hollywood producers.

The shelter-in-place and business lock-down orders the island’s government issued on Mar. 16, have meant the cancellation of some 21 production projects that were on the agenda for this fiscal year, Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Laboy confirmed.

Those projects represented some 950 days of filming, 2,900 jobs, and some 2,500 hotel room nights, Laboy confirmed.

For Fiscal year 2019-2020 — which runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 — the agency had endorsed 31 projects that represented some $105 million in investments, close to 3,700 direct and indirect jobs and almost 3,000 hotel room nights.

All of those numbers have been altered and, given that the film industry calls for groupings of people, it is considered a high-risk component of the economy and will likely take longer to bounce back, he said.

“If the nature of the activity has to do with large groupings, they’re considered higher risk, and it’s something we’ll be evaluating as we move forward,” said Laboy.

One of the first projects to call off its local production was Marvel, which was slated to roll “The Falcon & The Winter Soldier” on the island. However, that project was shut down in January, in the wake of the earthquake and aftershocks that hit the island’s southwestern region.

Whether they will resume filming in Puerto Rico after the health crisis subsides is being discussed on a project-by-project basis, Laboy confirmed.

“That will depend on whether the project is local or not, because if it’s local by nature it will resume. If it comes from off-island, they have options. We obviously don’t want them to leave,” he said. “We’re in communications with production houses, letting them know that we want Puerto Rico to continue being an option. But we know it’s a risk.”

Although Puerto Rico has lost a significant chunk of film industry business, Laboy said the COVID-19 pandemic has affected most major popular locations, such as California, Georgia, Louisiana, and New York.

“We have to understand that we’re not alone in this. Our main competitors are also very affected,” he said. “They’re more affected than Puerto Rico.”

“So, the key is that as long as Puerto Rico can demonstrate that we’re a safe, clean destination and that the private sector has implemented health and occupational safety protocols, and that we’ve modified our behavior in response to this new reality, we will be in a better competitive position than other jurisdictions,” said Laboy.

Author Details
Business reporter with 25 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other areas of the economy.

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