So what needs to be done for that to happen? Based on my 20 years of experience in building and running WorldNet, a voice, data, cloud and internet services firm in Puerto Rico that now has about 160 employees, here are the three things I would suggest.
1. Refocus government on economic growth. In Puerto Rico, government is the major employer, and few government leaders envision it doing anything beyond keeping a big portion of the population on its payroll. When government does encourage private industry, it is mainly through federal tax breaks for manufacturing. With many manufacturing jobs globally disappearing due to automation and only being created in Puerto Rico through special tax treatment, it is basing our growth on contrived employment and anachronistic workforce skills. That does not bode well for our workforce and future sustainable economic growth.
What we need to move our economy forward is more and more structured government support for entrepreneurship. Our government should be funding more incubators and accelerators. University of Puerto Rico, which is publicly funded, should be investing heavily in entrepreneurship education.
Government also needs to start acting as a formal emissary to overseas entrepreneurs who want to invest here. I am a member of the Young Presidents' Organization, a global network for entrepreneurs and leaders running high-growth businesses. Last year a group representing about 20 high-net-worth individuals reached out to me because they wanted to invest in local businesses on the island. Our government for six years has successfully offered tax incentives to attract wealthy individuals and businesses to live and operate here but has failed to provide any bridge for them to connect to the local economy.
Although the group sought help from our economic development officials, they did not get any meaningful help. I was happy to give the entrepreneurs some leads, but it was disappointing to see the government's total apathy toward skilled entrepreneurs and investors who want to invest in moving our economy forward. They have significant cash but can't find local businesses in which to invest.