- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Lawrence Hunter’s rendition of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s economic growth story misses the mark. Clearly, in “Puerto Rico Plight,” which ran in Aug. 2), Mr. Hunter has been co-opted by those who have a political interest in hindering Puerto Rico’s advancements — because of their obsession with the island’s political status. In describing the challenges Puerto Rico faces as we develop greater prosperity on the island, Mr. Hunter fails to relate Puerto Rico’s many achievements and the sense of optimism these successes have brought.

The challenges of the new global marketplace require innovative approaches to economic growth. Emerging from yesterday’s manufacturing model, tomorrow’s knowledge-based economy — with its emphasis on intellectual capital, technology, communications and information — drives development. Puerto Rico, with the combined dedication of government officials, citizens, leaders from many of the world’s largest corporations and the academic community, is evolving as a prime example of an integrated, knowledge-based economy. With it, the island serves as a leading-edge investment destination that is both stable and secure.

Under the leadership of Gov. Anibal Acevedo-Vila, Puerto Rico is charting a new course for success. After 40 years as a pharmaceuticals manufacturing hub, we are emerging as a center for the life sciences. To this end, we are developing a model that promotes the interrelationship between the links in a value chain: Our island is home to the research and development, the manufacture, the commercialization and the distribution of life-science products. Just as Silicon Valley does more than manufacture software and computers, Puerto Rico is doing more than manufacturing health-care devices, pharmaceuticals and technology.

Regions like Puerto Rico, Silicon Valley and others that are successful in this approach rely on their universities to support the research and attract the thinkers who create the newest scientific and technological advances. These regions provide a healthy business climate, and they develop and maintain the infrastructure necessary to coordinate among these sectors.

Today, partnerships between the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (PRIDCO), the University of Puerto Rico and the life-sciences industries — particularly biotechnology — result in new infrastructure and a more highly trained workforce. As evidence of our success, in the past 18 months Abbott, Eli Lilly, Bristol-MyersSquibb, Amgen, Becton Dickinson, Abraxis and Microsoft have all opened or expanded facilities in Puerto Rico, committing billions to our economy. In March of this year, Mr. Acevedo-Vila was awarded Governor of the Year honors by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the leading industry group, for successfully creating an environment that positions Puerto Rico at the forefront of the bioscience industry.

At the same time, we are comprehensively streamlining Puerto Rico’s government, applying well-establishedprivate-sector management principles. In 2005, the government cut 5,000 jobs, yet the private sector created 43,000, and today unemployment in Puerto Rico is at an all-time low. In addition to requiring spending cuts in government agencies, the governor has overseen the adoption of a balanced budget that includes an aggressive tax-reform proposal to achieve short- and long-term fiscal reform. Puerto Rico’s leading corporate investors have already signaled their support for such reforms, and new investors can expect to benefit from reduced red tape and expedited permitting processes.

We also continue to develop innovative promotional strategies and to highlight the advantages inherent in Puerto Rico’s location and its status as a commonwealth. Puerto Rico has long provided easy access to mainland and international markets, and it offers the benefits of offshore investing, compliance with all U.S. regulatory standards and homeland-security and customs protections.

Demonstrating our commitment to capitalize on opportunities in emerging markets, the heads of PRIDCO and the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce are visiting China and Taiwan this week, developing plans to position the island as a distribution hub for Chinese products bound for the Caribbean and Central America. Similar commercial visits have taken place in numerous countries.

Confident in our combination of flexible, responsive government and a cutting-edge approach to development, we are driving a new generation of investment in Puerto Rico. The governor’s steps to improve efficiency and eliminate waste in our agencies support a comprehensive program of fiscal reform that will keep Puerto Rico’s budgets balanced and our bond ratings and fiscal standing solid.

Our life-sciences value chain — attracting and keeping the best and the brightest on the island and creating new job opportunities and investment — is establishing the path for prosperity for years to come in Puerto Rico.

We are earning the approval of our island’s people and many of the U.S. mainland’s most innovative businesses. Their confidence and the successes we have already experienced make it clear we are charting the right course for our future.

Eduardo Bhatia is the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration and the governor’s Washington representative..

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