As the island of Puerto Rico hits the second-year anniversary mark of Hurricane Maria’s passing, some are saddened by the reminder and others celebrate. What is there to celebrate? The many initiatives taken by numerous non-lucrative organizations that made milestones of progress in recovery and economic development all over the island. Foundation for Puerto Rico is one of these organizations, celebrating the fact that 89 percent of the businesses that participated in their recovery program are still open today, despite FEMA estimates that say that 40-60 percent of businesses close within a year of a disaster.
Immediately after the hurricane’s passing, just 30 days after, the organization created the Small Business Support Program, which provided immediate relief for businesses to remain open. Through the Small Business Cash Grant Program, they gave small businesses $5,000 after they established that businesses weren’t receiving immediate assistance after the hurricane.
The program had two conditions: the first, the money granted had to be delivered to clusters of businesses, meaning areas cluttered with many businesses next to each other in order to create a “ripple effect” of concentrated help. The second was that as a requirement, in order to receive the money, the businesses had to complete four hours of mentoring.
In a collaboration with Centro para Emprendedores and the Puerto Rico TechnoEconomic Corridor (PRTECH), they implemented the program in 11 different municipalities. A total of $504,000 have been released to 200 small businesses. Of those 200 businesses, a year after the hurricane, FPR found that 93 percent remained open. Two years after the hurricane, 89 percent have remained open.
One of FPR’s pillars is the idea of the visitor’s economy, the idea that there is economic development opportunity in preparing a municipality in a tourist destination, not only for international visitors, but local ones as well.
“We identified business clusters that were crucial for communities in that particular topic of the visitor’s economy, and that approach also gave us the tools to develop Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative where we understood that when the help arrives in a concentrated form to one community in a crucial area, the possibilities of that help having a ripple effect in adjacent communities is greater and the recuperation process is faster,” said Alma Frontera, director of Alliances and Strategic Projects.
Part of this program’s protocol is for a group of ten individuals to move to a municipality for six months to work closely with community members to then spend six more months developing a Plan of Destination, intended to work with municipalities to better prepare their visitor economies. This means working with their social capital to better prepare the services offered.
“Part of our concern was that outside of those first few months of help was we needed to start thinking of how we were going to move in to the rebuilding stage because we were realizing that in September the new hurricane season would begin again. We worked with infrastructure and basic necessities, like clean water, renewable energy, telecommunications and businesses,” said Frontera.
By creating a Community Destination Economic Development Plan, FPR helps communities strengthen their infrastructure and expand their touristic offerings, betting on longer lengths of stay as a means for economic generation meanwhile creating new jobs and growing a tax base.
This program was first implemented in Orocovis and then in Punta Santiago in Humacao. Now, with the help of a federal grant given by the Economic Development Administration (EDA) under the U.S Department of Commerce, the foundation will expand the program into six new regions, meaning 12 new municipalities and 24 new communities. The regions are: Cabo Rojo/San Germán, Aguadilla/Isabela, Camuy/Arecibo, Adjuntas/Utuado, Barceloneta/Manatí, Orocovis, Humacao and Naguabo/Ceiba.
The grant was received in September of last year and it is the first time the EDA grants this amount of money, $6.891 million to be exact, to a non-lucrative organization for an economic development program that is not just for construction. The Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative program will last until 2020.