Puerto Rico has an opportunity to turn ongoing hurricane tragedy into triumph. This will only occur, if Island officials make proper investments and a commitment to its people. Mounting debt, poorly managed electrical power infrastructure, and municipal debt default is what the Island has become known for over the last few years. However, it is the lack of resiliency planning and the inability to launch a vison of a future Puerto Rico that could sink the Island.
Puerto Rico is still working to overcome the economic, social, and emotional toll taken on the Island when Hurricane Maria made landfall in September 2017. The storm blew back the covers and revealed a lush paradise unable to sustain itself. The spotlight on Puerto Rico illuminated high unemployment, national debt, and an uncertain business environment. It also identified a lack of investment in its people; the same ones that helped carry the Island through the storm.
Ironically, the hurricane destruction now provides an opportunity to rebuild systems, political and mechanical, and make the Island a model for struggling communities across the world. Puerto Rico has assets, it just needs to summon an ability to combine available resources and create new value. I know this because I employ 100 engineers performing quality assessments of the power restoration efforts.
Prior to the storm, many people did not recognize the importance of Puerto Rico; this included the Island’s inhabitants. Others, unaware people born in Puerto Rico had the same birthright of all Americans, questioned anger towards the U.S. Government for a slow response. Many Americans were ignorant to the fact that a rapid response could have potentially prevented shortages of products keeping them alive or relieving their pain. Puerto Rico produces 13 of the world’s top-selling brand-name drugs. Most Americans are familiar with brand names like Humira, Xarelto, and Saline, however, they do not know where they are produced.
Puerto Ricans should not depend on its manufacturing value to the world as comfort there will always be support during a disaster. Resilience must become a staple of all new economic development. Island inhabitants at both the political level and community level ought to pause and immediately turn their attentions to the Island’s lack of community connectivity and civil response strategy. With Hurricane season in full force, it would be foolish not to do so.
Puerto Rico has a rare opportunity to reinvent itself while preparing to minimize damage and responding quickly to manmade and natural events. Even as restoration of the power grid continues, the building of response plans, and next generation infrastructure that enhances production will make the Island shine through the dark times. This requires educating youth by equipping them with tools and knowledge necessary to succeed for generations to come.