Monday, June 11, 2018

The Hill: When rebuilding Puerto Rico, let's start with its economy, by Art Estopinan

When it rains it pours. It seems these days, Puerto Rico can't catch a break. As the people of the island work to recover from a double whammy of devastating storms, must, as a nation, take a closer look at assisting our fellow American citizens through economic development and disaster relief for Puerto Rico.
Already in a perilous economic situation, Puerto Rico now must grapple with the urgent matters such as roadway cleanup and hooking people back up to clean, running water and the electrical grid.

As Congress works on emergency appropriations legislation for those affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in Texas, Florida and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, two key members of Congress can play a vital role in our rebuilding efforts. Both are Florida Republicans. The first is Sen. Marco Rubio who serves a large number of Puerto Ricans living in his home state of Florida and is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The second is Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, a longtime advocate for Puerto Rico and a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Their leadership in Congress to help Floridians and Puerto Ricans rebuild from these horrible hurricanes is crucial.

Another good example of proactive efforts that are currently taking place in Congress to help Puerto Rico is that of Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon who introduced a bill to amend Title 49 referencing air cargo on the Island. The “Puerto Rico Air Cargo Industry Empowerment Act,” or HR 3472. This bill is introduced in connection to an economic growth strategy modifying the federal laws that currently governs cargo transported in any aircraft on the island of Puerto Rico. Given their current economic situation, passing laws like this one will provides necessary changes to integrate shifts that can benefit the development and growth of the island.

While strategizing options for development of the economy in Puerto Rico, we must take into consideration that the household income of 3.4 million Puerto Rican citizens reflects nearly $20,000 per year. By contrast, on the mainland, Mississippi has the lowest income per capita and the household income is nearly $40,000 per year with a similar population of almost 3 million citizens. There is a significant gap to fill in transitioning Puerto Rico out of a third world country status and out of their $72 billion debt.

There are several important and viable industries in Puerto Rico that help the economy greatly. Tourism is one of the most predominate sources of income, in which their economy is highly dependent on thanks to their beautiful beaches and sunshine. The other one is manufacturing which produces 49 percent of employment on the island and most are good paying jobs. However, there is great potential to increase those primary industries on the island to others, such as: aviation, international banking, international finance, medical tourism, fashion and arts, transportation infrastructure, energy and information technology just to name a few sectors.

For sustainable economic growth, investors in Puerto Rico should maintain a long-term perspective and create business opportunities that will address the ongoing need for economic growth and development. Legislative efforts including changes to Title 49 will help. This sets in motion the upward domino effect for increased employment and higher wages ultimately increasing the household income and the overall economy on the island. The implementation of the new industries and needed reforms in established sectors such as energy, are essential to improve the economy where tourism, manufacturing and other  promising sectors can flourish for the residents of Puerto Rico and all Americans.

Art Estopinan is part of the New World Group, which represents the Coalition of the Private Sector in Puerto Rico. Estopinan is a contributor to the American Project with the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. 

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