Nearly six months after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, thousands of crypto enthusiasts have descended upon San Juan for a string of blockchain and crypto conferences that the island's government is hoping will finally give the struggling economy the boost it needs.
Puerto Rico's financial woes have been well-telegraphed. After a decade of recession, it is restructuring a large portion of its $73 billion in outstanding debt in the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy. The storm, a nearly Category 5 hurricane, dealt the commonwealth another massive blow in September, and the damage threatened to set the island back even more.
But many blockchain companies are now looking at Puerto Rico as a viable hub for the rapidly growing crypto industry. The island's government has offered attractive tax incentives, seeing a unique opportunity to help boost its depressed economy.
"Before the natural disaster, the hurricane, we were already targeting Puerto Rico to become a world leader — not only a regional leader, but a world leader — in export services and technology," said Manuel Laboy, the secretary of Puerto Rico's Department of Economic Development and Commerce. "That was part of the vision that Gov. (Ricardo) Rossello has for Puerto Rico," he said in an interview with CNBC.
Laboy also unveiled on Thursday an initiative to form an advisory council to focus on developing blockchain businesses on the island.
On Wednesday, the economic development department and a company called Blockchain Industries kicked off a three-day conference called Blockchain Unbound at The Condado Vanderbilt, a luxury beachfront hotel that is owned by the founder of the hedge fund Paulson & Co.