Puerto Rico is hobbled by an unprecedented fiscal crisis. It is staring down the timeline at a July 1 debt payment of $2 billion and it’s money it doesn’t have. While Congress grapples with whether to help the U.S. territory restructure its debt, the Small Business Administration has opened to investment the defunct Roosevelt Roads Naval Station that businesses can redevelop for commercial use. Joining NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams are Malu Blazquez, Executive Director of the Roosevelt Roads Redevelopment Project, and the SBA’s Puerto Rico District Director Yvette Collazo.
Williams: Given the dire financial straits that Puerto Rico is in, how do you convince anyone that it’s a good idea to invest there?
Blazquez: Well, I think it’s a great opportunity. You know, sometimes the crisis allows for a great opportunity. Puerto Rico is offering some incredible incentives for investors to move to Puerto Rico and to establish their businesses there. As leader of the local Redevelopment Authority for Roosevelt Roads we’re looking to develop this mixed-use development. We have 3,000 acres of incredible land to redevelop which was finally transferred to us a couple years ago.
Collazo: And from the SBA standpoint, we’ve had an enormous opportunity here with Roosevelt Roads to partner with them and ensure that our SBA programs, specifically the HUBzone program, is part of the Roosevelt Roads, so that federal contracting is readily available to those small businesses that want to bid on those.
Williams: Is that what the new designation, Malu, the historically underutilized business zone designation does?
Collazo: Yes, I mean we just got that designation last year for 5 years for now and I think it’ll be extended afterwards. It’s a great opportunity for businesses, it makes it attractive for them to, you know, establish themselves in Roosevelt Roads.
Williams: How do you see the Roosevelt Roads development properties energizing the economy there?
Blazquez: Well, as I said, the eastern part of Puerto Rico is very depressed and when the Navy base was closed in 2004 it was, you know, it affected a great deal that area. You know there were over 6,000 people living there and it created a lot of small business opportunities in the area so it affected us big time. So now that we have control of the land, as of 2013, we’re finally in the process of redeveloping. We already have a couple small businesses there and some big business contracts were signed recently, so that will definitely help us.
Williams: Yvette, what kind of businesses is the Small Business Administration looking to get there?
Collazo: Many types. It can be from tourism to manufacturing, it could be engineering, it could be any type of business, anything that would actually help the economy in the area and also provide an opportunity for the people around it to obtain employment as well.
Williams: You’ve had a town meeting on this subject. Who did you attract to that meeting and what did you learn from it?
Collazo: Sure, so it was very successful. We had all sorts of areas interested, from restaurants to actually people interested in taking care of the canine population in Puerto Rico and, you know, the dogs that are really astrayed and all that. So, we saw the whole gamut. Construction, we saw some construction, and they really had an interest, a true interest. After the conference was over they came over, they got our cards and, you know, really wanted to understand how they could do business in Puerto Rico.
Williams: And Malu what was your takeaway?
Blazquez: It was great. There was a lot of interest. A lot of people very enthusiastic and interested in looking how they could expand their businesses to Puerto Rico, very interested in Roosevelt Roads. As I said, this is an incredible opportunity. It’s an incredible land. It has the most spectacular views, the infrastructure it has, and of course the climate and the beautiful ecological areas and beaches and everything really makes it attractive to establish a big development there, a mixed use development.