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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Puerto Rico’s governor argues that after Hurricane Maria, the island is ready for tech businesses to set up shop.

In the difficult days after hurricanes Irma and Maria, it was hard for many Puerto Ricans to think about the future amid the rubble and ruin left by these devastating storms. Now, as we approach the first anniversary of those storms and enter a new chapter of the rebuilding process, I am optimistic and excited about what the future holds.


The storms ravaged Puerto Rico's infrastructure and economy, but we are rebuilding both to be stronger than ever. And while the work is hard, the opportunities are endless. Puerto Rico is a blank canvas, making it a unique platform for investment and innovation. That is why we are actively courting technology companies and investors to establish or expand operations on the island.

Puerto Rico has a well-educated, bilingual workforce. Roughly 30 percent of the population considers themselves fluently bilingual—far higher than Americans' national average. Aside from South Korea, Puerto Rico has one of the strongest records of educational development in recent history. Between 1960 and 2000, the average education of Puerto Rican workers doubled from 6.2 to 12.2 years, a record that no other country has attained.

Puerto Rico connects North, South, and Central America, making it the ideal location for businesses with operations and sales throughout the hemisphere. We also have a number of incentives that make our island an ideal place for investors to set up shop and for tech companies to sell products to the rest of the US market. I would like to see Puerto Rico become a place where businesses serve customers and coordinate operations throughout the Americas, what I like to think of as a “human cloud,” where workers spread across the island handle tasks remotely for businesses around the world.


This idea was on my mind during a recent trip to San Francisco, the beacon for global technology innovation. I met with senior executives from Airbnb, Tesla, Facebook, LinkedIn, Gap, and Uber to discuss opportunities for each to invest and grow in Puerto Rico. We also met with Silicon Valley private equity funds to present the opportunities that Puerto Rico offers.

We have created an ecosystem to attract new technology investments. We continue to modernize our tax code, but we already have incentives in place for businesses that export services to people outside Puerto Rico. These include tax incentives for research and development, consulting, investment banking, telemedicine, law firms, accounting, engineering, advertising, and even hospital services. These reforms are ideal for the technology sector as those businesses increasingly focus on services and less on hardware or software. We also have special tax credits for intellectual property developed in Puerto Rico, as long as the company or individual who created the technology spends at least half the year here.

Puerto Rico's biggest draw for technology companies will be the opportunity to experiment with cutting-edge technology as we rebuild our island. And our government will be an eager partner to facilitate those investments. Since the storms, Puerto Rico has partnered with Tesla and SunRun to modernize our energy grid, Google and Facebook to re-establish communications and internet access, and Airbnb to reinvigorate the island’s tourism industry. We are also working with AT&T, T-Mobile, and other telecommunication companies to build a 5G cellular network. We're giving businesses a chance to test new technologies on a once-unimaginable scale. The rebuilt energy and telecommunications system will be one of the most modern in the world.

In May, Airbnb announced an Experiences platform for the island, which will allow travelers to explore authentic Puerto Rican activities selected by local hosts; this will allow tourists to enjoy all the cultural and natural splendor Puerto Rico has to offer. For the first three months, Airbnb will donate all the fees to organizations helping with the relief effort. In the weeks and months ahead, the government will be announcing other agreements with companies in the tourism and tech sectors.

Today's workforce is more geographically independent than it was a decade ago. People can work anywhere, and who wouldn’t want to live and work in Puerto Rico? It’s physically beautiful, and you can’t beat our tropical climate. Those intangibles will continue to make Puerto Rico an attractive place for tech and multinational companies to set up shop. We are already a proud outpost of a number of globally recognized brands, including a number of global pharmaceutical giants, GE, Honeywell, and Microsoft. We have a thriving biopharmaceutical market, and we have worked hard to attract manufacturers, software developers, and telecommunication companies.

Puerto Rico already ranks third globally in the availability of scientists and engineers, according to a Global Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum, and we have established a number of incentives for technology companies to open or expand operations here. For example, we have established a public-private partnership, the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust, to lure tech talent to the island and keep it here.

Ever since I was a student, I have been fascinated by science and technology. That obsession led me to earn a degree in biomedical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and PhD at the University of Michigan. As a former professor, I believe that these science and technology jobs represent the future of Puerto Rico’s economy. My administration is focused on growing Puerto Rico's technology sector by attracting and retaining top tech talent and building a robust network of teleworkers to service these companies an ever-growing number of customers.

Last year’s storms destroyed so much of our island, but the rebuilding process gives us endless opportunities to improve every part of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. How many other developed economies represent a blank canvas to experiment and grow? While these disasters have deeply damaged our island, Puerto Ricans are resilient, and I’m certain we will rise better and stronger than before.

WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here.

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