It has been an honor and a privilege to support the efforts leading to the development and drafting of the Southern Puerto Rico Economic Development District Comprehensive Economic Development Strategic plan (SPREDD-CEDS). It is important to recognize that this was not a one person or one entity effort, but a collaborative and iterative initiative between public and private stakeholders and partners who dedicated time and effort to craft the 2021 SPREDD-CEDS. At Titín Foundation (TF) we pride ourselves with having an amazing and dedicated staff who goes above and beyond to make things happen. I would like to stress my gratitude to Hazel Colón, Programs Director at Titín Foundation, who pushed the envelope, taking a bold transformational idea with historic implications, and led it through implementation. TF is extremely grateful for the creativeness and passion invested in this initiative by our Program’s Director. This work will resonate on improving the quality of life of the residents of the Southern Puerto Rico Economic Development District Region. I would also like to recognize the Economic Development Administration (EDA) Philadelphia Regional Office, Regional Administrator, Linda CruzCarnall, Matthew Suchodolski, Economic Development Integrator (EDI), Juan Bauzá, Economic Development Representative (EDR-PR-USVI), and Zulma Velazquez, Economic Development Specialist (EDS-PR) for their collaboration, invaluable guidance, and counsel throughout this process.
Special thanks to the members of the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT), University of Puerto Rico, Ponce, Casa Grande, Invest Puerto Rico, CIRACET, EDA, and the support of FEMA Community Planning and Capacity Building who, in a historic collaboration, contributed to an inclusive process gathering relevant data for the crafting of this first localized “Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for Southern Puerto Rico” (2021 Pilot SPREDD-CEDS). This regionally driven economic development document focuses on the municipalities of Guánica, Yauco, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce, and Juana Díaz.
The work behind drafting this document has been dense, extremely challenging, yet immensely gratifying. It has been a coordinated effort of multiple players at the local level in partnership with local government, federal government, private sector as well as the nonprofit sector working together. The SLT, serving as a CEDS Committee, worked in close collaboration with the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, EDA, community leaders, various industries, education providers, workforce boards, non-profit organizations, individuals, and public sector representatives and engaged in meaningful conversations and debates on regional economic planning, goals, and coherent strategies.
This document is one of several requirements needed to complete an Economic Development District (EDD) designation package. This SPREDD-CEDS is a living planning document and an integral part of the ongoing efforts leading to the Southern Puerto Rico Economic Development District (SPREDD) designation request. This first step, having a regional CEDS approved by EDA, is a significant step forward to creating the first-ever EDD in Puerto Rico. The federal designation will strengthen and revitalize a region within Puerto Rico which holds tremendous potential but is also burdened with significant challenges and devastating setbacks following recent hurricanes and earthquakes.
Countless hours have been invested in this planning process geared towards gathering and capturing community input in the areas of capacity building, economic prosperity, and enhanced economic resilience for Puerto Rico’s southern region in preparation for future disasters. Since the beginning of this 2 process, in April 2020, and despite the challenges brought about by the earthquakes, coupled with the COVID-19 disruption on social gatherings and communication gaps, the SLT, along with stakeholders, was able to effectively move through these hurdles and accomplish this major milestone of producing the Pilot SPREDD-CEDS.
This initiative was originally conceptualized in the Puerto Rico Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan “Transformation in the Wake of Disaster 2018” and referenced in multiple courses of action within the plan. Many pre-planning efforts strategizing and socializing how to implement such an ambitious project were made prior to engaging in the development of this Pilot SPREDD-CEDS. On January 23, 2020, EDA Regional Administrator, Linda Cruz-Carnall visited the Southern Region amid the earthquakes and presented the concept of a Pilot EDD to the Mayor of Ponce, as an opportunity for regional revitalization. Following this meeting, Hazel Colón (TF-PD) and Juan Bauzá (EDR-PR-USVI) co-developed the programmatic design for this Pilot SPREDD-CEDS and EDD initiative. Following the project design, EDR-PRUSVI made a request to IEDC for an Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT), under their technical assistance grant with EDA, to conduct a SWOT analysis of the region, TF then led the stakeholder engagement efforts.
ACS American Community Survey
BLS U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
DDEC Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce
CEDS Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy
CFC Controlled Foreign Corporation
COA Course of Action set forth in the Recovery Plan
CPCB Community Planning and Capacity Building
CDBG-DR Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery
EIA U.S. Energy Information Administration
EDA U.S. Economic Development Administration
EDD Economic Development District
FCC Federal Communications Commission
FOMB Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico
FTZ Foreign Trade Zone
GDB-EAI Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico Economic Activity Index
GDP Gross Domestic Product
GPR Government of Puerto Rico
HSOAC Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center
IRC Internal Revenue Code of the United States
LFPR Labor Force Participation Rate
LQ Location Quotient
PBPA Point Blank Protective Apparel
PHSU Ponce Health Sciences University
PREPA Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority
PRI Ponce Research Institute
PRIDCO Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company
PROMESA Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act
QCEW Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
QOZ Qualified Opportunity Zone
SMR Small Modular Reactor
SPREDD Southern Puerto Rico Economic Development District
TCJA Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
WIOA Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
A conference call was held on April 20th to introduce the Southern Puerto Rico Pilot initiative to the 6 municipalities of the region, and the central government. On April 24, 2020, a kick-off meeting was held, which was attended by approximately 25 people, representing the federal and municipal governments, non-profits organizations, and the academic sector. Organizing specific working committees began, with the continuous assistance of the Economic Recovery Support Function (Econ RSF). After this meeting, the SPREDD Steering Committee, IEDC, and the Econ RSF prepared a series of questionnaires, in Spanish and English, that were eventually used to obtain input from key industry stakeholders, making this the first attempt of a virtual CEDS stakeholder consultation conducted virtually and completely in Spanish. This was one of the most critical phases regarding this regional planning process. On July 10, a presentation on the objectives, process, and benefits of an EDD designation was given to the 6 municipalities in the region.
A Stakeholder’s Event was conducted virtually on January 29, 2021, where 11 industries from the 6 municipalities were represented. During the session, the attendees were divided into focus groups to discuss and identify their top priorities. Stakeholder interview sessions were facilitated by UPR professors, who later provided summary reports of the collected data. The questionnaires were also distributed to all stakeholders, and reasonable time was given for them to respond.
In addition, the goals, progress, and initiatives were shared and made available in both Spanish and English on the webpage https://www.eddpr.org. This webpage served as a transparency portal, a document repository, and for the purpose of engaging the community and obtaining its feedback. Questionnaires were also made available on the website to maintain an open and inclusive process 24/7 to address potential gaps in community participation due to COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing.
On February 23, 2021, a public Spanish outreach campaign was launched by TF, “Apostemos por el Sur”, including social media, billboards, and public service ads. TF also conducted multiple interviews that were featured in print, digital, radio, and television media introducing the Pilot EDD initiative and encouraging public participation by filling out the questionnaires through the website.
A second in-person presentation to the 6 municipalities took place on March 31, 2021, at the University of Puerto Rico in Ponce. The presentation was followed by individual interviews conducted by IEDC’s consultants, in which the participating municipalities had the opportunity to bring their input regarding their specials needs and specific initiatives for economic development in their region.
Once the first draft of 2021 SPREDD-CEDS was completed in May 2021, it underwent a curation process to ensure that it met all the compliance requirements for EDA approval before being placed on the webpage to attract other interested parties to review it and to provide comments on the prioritized initiatives and projects.
Finally, I am deeply grateful and appreciative for the insight, expertise, and assistance given by all those who, in one way or another, helped in crafting this document. TF looks forward to working collaboratively on the key projects and actions to accomplish the goals and objectives set forth herein to create a more resilient region for the 6 municipalities that have come together to form Puerto Rico’s inaugural Pilot EDD. Regional stakeholders have been and will continue to be critical and instrumental in the development of the plan’s vision, goals, and action plans, today and into the future.
Certainly, this Pilot SPREDD-CEDS will provide the blueprint by which all sectors, working collaboratively, will be able to create the environment for regional economic prosperity, good and well paid jobs, and a more diverse economy that can spur economic growth and resiliency.
With great satisfaction I am proud to say that no stone has been left unturned to ensure full and inclusive participation from all stakeholders of the municipalities of Guánica, Guayanilla, Juana Díaz, Peñuelas, Ponce, and Yauco. Access to participate in the creation of this regional plan was open to all, and because of that, this SPREDD-CEDS is truly the Region’s Plan.