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Puerto Rico’s Place on ‘Hurricane Highway’ Key to Economic Growth

Hurricane Fiona assaulted Puerto Rico just a month after the Bluetide Caribbean Summit, where a speaker suggested the jurisdiction’s place on the “hurricane highway” argues for an opportunistic focus on resilient economic development.

Juan Bauzá, an economic development representative of the U.S. Department of Commerce with deep ties to Puerto Rico, noted that the blue economy is $2.7 trillion annually and that the U.S. territory could become a key player. “If we’re able to insert Puerto Rico early on in this decade of the oceans, we can basically start leading and exporting knowledge services.”

The Summit assembled investors, business, nonprofit, and government leaders to talk about attracting impact investment capital to spur blue economic development in this U.S. jurisdiction.

Juan Bauza speaking at Bluetide Caribbean Summit in Puerto Rico

EDA’s Juan Bauza speaking at Bluetide Caribbean Summit in Puerto Rico

“The goal for today is to tell the story of all of the different pieces that have already been put in place and start communicating the opportunity for investing in Puerto Rico to catalyze this change,” Calandra Cruikshank, founder and CEO of StateBook International, said. Cruikshank partners with Bluetide and serves with Impact Entrepreneur founder and editor Laurie Lane-Zucker on the Blue Economy Resilience Initiative (BERI).

To measure impact and appeal to impact investors, Bluetide Puerto Rico, the nonprofit host of the Summit, partnered with the grandson of legendary investor Warren Buffett, Howard W. Buffett, and his firm Global Impact, to measure impact. The younger Buffett teaches at Columbia University and is the co-author of Social Value Investing. His company has developed tools it shares with Bluetide to measure impact with ease and discipline.

Buffett sees accountability to the community as being vital. He describes Global Impact’s tool, saying, “It really provides an approach to ensure that impact investments are as effective, comprehensive, and accountable as possible, particularly to the communities where the investments are taking place.”

The Summit assembled investors, business, nonprofit, and government leaders to talk about attracting impact investment capital to spur blue economic development in this U.S. jurisdiction.

The partnership with Buffet is unique. “This collaboration that we have in Bluetide has been especially unique in bringing together such a remarkable team, different organizations, some for-profit, some nonprofits, some government, and bringing all that together and culminating in this conversation today.”

This blue economy effort developed as a response to back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria hitting Puerto Rico in 2017 with devastating impact.

Speaker at Bluetide Caribbean Summit in Puerto Rico

Ramon Carlos Barquin, President of the Board of Directors for Bluetide, speaks at the Bluetide Caribbean Summit.

“Usually, disaster recovery is something that is designed to reincorporate the jurisdiction to pre-disaster conditions,” says Bauza, who works at the Economic Development Agency within the Commerce Department. Noting that Puerto Rico was in financial distress before the hurricanes, “We basically looked at it as a transformational economic development opportunity. We looked at how we build economic resilience because we literally have a clean slate.”

Those who attended the Summit included aligned players active in the effort. Cristina Cabrera from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources attended. “We know that sea level rise is a problem,” she says. The agency is working to find softer, more natural alternatives to concrete seawalls to protect both populations and the environment. The effort may require funding from impact investors and expertise from experts like those at Bluetide.

Ella Woger-Nieves, the acting CEO of Invest Puerto Rico, argues that resilience is already a Puerto Rican selling point. “Puerto Rico is one of the few jurisdictions that can actually prove that we are a resilient jurisdiction. We’ve been through earthquakes. We’ve been through hurricanes. You can talk to some of the bigger manufacturers here on the island that will say, ‘Our business was up and running in 48 hours.’ That’s resilient. That’s not something that many other jurisdictions can actually prove.”

She looks forward to enabling further investor conversations about the blue economy. “There’s aquaculture, there are coastal areas, there are coastal erosion and resiliency technologies,” she says. “We can absolutely serve as an innovative hub for those technologies and be able to actually export them to the world.”

Puerto Rico is one of the few jurisdictions that can actually prove that we are a resilient jurisdiction. We’ve been through earthquakes. We’ve been through hurricanes.

For its part, Bluetide organized the summit with specific fundraising goals in mind.

One opportunity is to invest in fish aggregating devices. Bluetide has already placed 22 of the $30,000 FADs around the island to take stress off coral reefs and improve the livelihoods of local commercial fishers. The nonprofit hopes to attract $6 million of investment funding to place 200 more FADs, which are also popular with anglers.

Bluetide also hopes to raise $2.5 million for its artificial reef work. Reefs are an essential part of island resilience, providing a barrier protecting land from waves and storm surges brought by hurricanes. Threatened by climate change, pollution, and overuse, building new reefs will help strengthen the ecosystem and the economy – with more visitors snorkeling and scuba diving.

Bluetide also plans to deploy acoustic arrays to monitor fish activity around the FADs, further improving fishing results. That investment opportunity is just over $3 million.

The EDA’s Bauza has overseen the Commerce Department’s deployment of $168 million into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He’s excited about the potential long-term impact. “We’ve been placing little moving parts that set the foundation so we can incentivize a $318 million private investment opportunity to generate 37,000 jobs and retain over 6,000.”

For his part, Buffett is optimistic. “If you’re an impact investor and you want to support the blue economy in Puerto Rico, you’re going to have a lot of different options for how you do that, a lot of different organizations that you could make an investment in or allocate funding to,” he said.

Ramon Barquin, President of the Board of Bluetide, also expressed optimism for Puerto Rico. Near the end of the day, he said, referring to Bluetide’s blue economy mission, “We need more than ever the investors and the community to embrace it.”

Integrating Puerto Rico into the quickly growing blue economy could not only make the island more resilient against future hurricanes and other threats but also provide an economic growth engine. The collaboration of government, business, and nonprofit leaders helps make the effort more inclusive and more likely to succeed. If the Bluetide Caribbean Investment Summit catalyzes investment as hoped, it will prove to have been an important step forward.

This article is Part Eight of a series produced by Impact Entrepreneur about current and planned “blue economy” and resilience initiatives in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and broader Caribbean. This series is an outreach effort to communicate the Blue Economy Course of Action ECN 10 found in the Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico and bluetidepr.org. Other articles in the series are listed below as they appear.

I. A New Framework for Economic Revitalization in Puerto Rico

II. Measuring Impact in Puerto Rico’s Emerging Blue Economy

III. Resilience: Two experts discuss its importance to the impact economy

IV. Restoring Coral Reefs Is One Key to Puerto Rico’s Economic Future

V. Technology and Sustainability: A Way Forward for Puerto Rico?

VI. El Bienestar Común, or How Puerto Rico is Taking Care of Itself

VII. Public-Private Partnerships Can Lead to More Local Ownership

IX. Blue Your Mind: Innovations Feeding the Fishing Industry and Catalyzing the Blue Economy

Devin is a bestselling author who calls himself a champion of social good. He travels extensively as a volunteer doing service, as a new-media journalist finding heroes and as a speaker sharing what he’s learned. As a Forbes Contributor, he covered social entrepreneurship and impact investing, reaching an audience of ... Read more
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