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With Puerto Rico mired in economic challenges for more than 10 years, coupled with natural disasters and now the COVID-19 pandemic, the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce is going all out to support the private sector and promote “positive change for Puerto Rico.”

The Chamber has launched its “12-point Plan to Promote Economic Activity” on the island and has received the support of the gubernatorial candidates vying for La Fortaleza in November’s general elections.

During a forum with the gubernatorial hopefuls, the Chamber outlined the main points that will help spur the private sector forward, as well as the rest of Puerto Rico.

These initiatives include:

• Attend with priority the processes of health prevention and care the presence of COVID-19, maintaining a sensible and effective public policy on economic activity and the protection of jobs.

• Promote initiatives that support and stimulate micro, small and midsize businesses.

• Accelerate the assignment and investment of federal recuperation funds.

• Reduce energy costs and create a more resilient system.

• Reduce the tax burden on individuals and corporations with an integrated, simple and stable system.

Other points outlined in the plan include making the permits process more agile, which has been a long standing complaint with entrepreneurs, supporting the U.S. House bills that would declare all of Puerto Rico an Opportunity Zone and establishing the island as important manufacturing hub for the United States; and promoting new economic sectors, such as Start Ups and tech companies.

“Puerto Rico needs to focus on strengthening the economy,” said Juan Carlos Agosto Martínez, president of the Chamber. “For this to happen, our political leaders have to commit to developing policies and programs based on a competitive vision of government to foster jobs, development and innovation that contribute to economic growth and sustainable social well-being.

“This plan is critical because as we all know, the situation right now is terrible,” he added.

According to Agosto, there are around 44,000 businesses on the island, and of these, around 37,000 — or more than 80 percent — are small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. “They are struggling every day to survive. The problems are real and we cannot deny this,” he added.

“The difficult economic conditions pose significant challenges, as well as opportunities. As a people, and as a private sector and engine of our economy, we cannot overlook this opportunity to combine our wills and adopt courses of action that favor our greater collective well-being,” Agosto said.

Main Gubernatorial Hopefuls React

The New Progressive Party’s La Fortaleza hopeful, Pedro Pierluisi, who appeared at the forum via Zoom as was in self-quarantine, said he supports the Chamber’s 12 -point plan, “as it is totally consistent with my vision.”

The former Resident Commissioner noted that as part of his gubernatorial campaign, he has visited more than 40 towns in two months and met with many business people, professionals, farmers and nonprofit representatives to receive their points of views and understand their concerns.

As governor, Pierluisi said economic development would receive the utmost priority. “The private sector is important to provide opportunities. If the private sector rises, then so does the rest of Puerto Rico,” he added.

For his part, Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Carlos “Charlie” Delgado Altieri also gave the 12-point plan the “thumbs up,” as he stressed that it is central to economic development, as it focuses on seeking agreements that will move Puerto Rico forward.

The long-time mayor of Isabela added that he is committed to reforms at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and vowed to carry out audits of the public utility that will include making public the details of its fuel purchases.

With regard to small businesses, Delgado said he is focused on the message that Puerto Rico is “open for business.”

To facilitate the permits process, he said he would provide provisional permits to entrepreneurs that would then give the business person one year to submit all the required documents to operate. “The government is the one who is impeding the permits process,” either by delays or lack of staff, he said.

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