Through a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and matching funds from several private-sector partners, Operation Hope will soon begin hosting workshops in Puerto Rico to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in designated Opportunity Zones.
The $3 million initiative includes $1.2 million from the EDA along with $600,000 from Expotech Inc. to support and deliver digital-education services; $300,000 from Banco Popular to deploy financial educators; and $300,000 from Walters Kluwer for printing services.
Scheduled to begin early next year at various locations islandwide, the seminars will focus on helping small “mom-and-pop” family businesses, micro-businesses and other entrepreneurs.
Operation Hope, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta, will provide nearly $600,000 of its own resources in the project. Operation Hope focuses on fighting poverty by educating low and moderate-income youth and adults on financial literacy and economic empowerment. A key component of its work is helping small businesses expand their markets through online transactions.
Caryn Anderson, senior vice president of Marketing and Communications at Operation Hope, told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that the focus will be on “underserved” small businesses, adding that they are currently conducting “outreach” services to identify program participants. She added that support services will take place across 10 locations, based on proximity to Banco Popular locations.
The participating small and micro businesses will be drawn from tourism/hospitality, small scale manufacturing, agriculture, commerce and service industries. Technical assistance will focus on continuity activities such as business expansion, new business opportunity building, preparedness and resilience.
“Over a period of 2.4 years, Operation Hope will provide 3,000 economic empowerment and recovery services to clients in Puerto Rico. Services will include workshops in disaster recovery, disaster resilience, credit and small businesses, and one-on-one counseling... Of the 3,000 services provided, 500 current and aspiring entrepreneurs will be enrolled in the Digital Small Business Development Program,” Anderson explained.
“We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Department’s Economic Development Administration for awarding this grant to support our work in Puerto Rico,” said Operation Hope CEO John Hope Bryant. “It will help us continue to uplift communities there, and we will also be able to bring impact to designated Opportunity Zones. As I’ve said before, these zones will begin to attract real capital into neighborhoods and this grant allows us to continue our work to empower inclusion and help the island’s economy recover and grow stronger.”
According to the EDA, the workshops will be held in designated Opportunity Zones throughout the island, which includes almost all of Puerto Rico. There are a total of 863 Opportunity Zones—defined as economically distressed communities— in Puerto Rico, said Annemarie Fox, public affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“Opportunity Zones are designed to spur economic development by providing tax benefits to investors. Investing in Opportunity Zones not only enhances ROI [return on investment] for business interests, but it also has a tremendous social impact by driving private investment to distressed areas. The EDA is the only federal agency focused exclusively on economic development. As such, EDA has made supporting economic development projects within Opportunity Zones a priority,” Fox said to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.