Economists, Retailers See Sales Spike on Horizon

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the Nov. 22-28, 2018, issue of Caribbean Business.

As the words of the traditional Christmas carol go, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for many people during the holidays because of all the presents, family gatherings, parties and other seasonal activities. However, after last year’s Christmas season, just months after Hurricane Maria had struck the island, it was not that wonderful at all for most in Puerto Rico. Recovery efforts left many consumers unable to celebrate their usual traditional Christmas holiday festivities because of the economic challenges on the island. In addition, businesses had a difficult time because of the lack of electricity to maintain sales and operations.

This year, consumers appear to have more enthusiasm to acquire Christmas decorations, presents and other holiday items. On the other hand, stores have registered greater sales as a result of the chain effect from all the federal funds recently injected into Puerto Rico, along with insurance payments, loans and other recovery investments.

“We are going to have a very strong and positive Christmas. We are still in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, but from the point of view of money injection, $10 billion has already been disbursed after the catastrophe,” economist Gustavo Vélez said in an interview with Caribbean Business. “That money created a sales dynamic until August 2018 when they increased by 10.9 percent year to date, compared to the previous year. This Christmas, we will be seeing a growth of 8 percent to 10 percent compared to last year [2017],” he stressed.

So far, this trend can be observed in the increased sales recorded in the most recent InfoVentas report from the Trade & Export Co. (CCE by its Spanish initials) for 2018. The executive director of the CCE, Ricardo Llerandi Cruz, explained in a release that “definitely, small and midsize businesses [pymes by the Spanish acronym] have projected an increase in their commercial activity.” Cumulative sales in this important sector increased $1.7 billion from January 2018 to August 2018, compared to the same period in 2017, which reflects a 26 percent increase. He also indicated that total sales for this period was $8.2 billion, while from January 2017 to August 2017, it was $6.5 billion.

Meanwhile, total 2018 retail sales from January to August increased 15.7 percent, with sales for this period amounting to $22.8 billion, while for the same period in 2017, it was $19.7 billion.

The sectors that reported the greatest sales increases were yard & gardening equipment up 37.6 percent; furniture stores growing 36.3 percent; and gas stations & convenience stores expanding by 29.1 percent. On the other hand, the sectors that reported sales reductions were jewelry stores, luggage & leather goods, down minus-19.7 percent; sports stores, musical instruments & entertainment with a minus-7.4 percent drop; shoe stores sinking minus-5.9 percent; and cosmetics, beauty products & perfume stores at minus-5.6 percent.

Looking to the future, the expectation is that 2019 will be a better year and there is certain optimism, and that makes people spend more, according to Vélez. Projections indicate there will be 7 percent growth, although in the economist’s opinion, it may be lower.

Economy on caffeine?

On the other hand, economist Vicente “Chenti” Feliciano told Caribbean Business that “fund transfers, claims payments from insurance companies, and out-of-pocket money spent to rebuild have been helping retail sales and have been performing well. “The outlook for retail sales is positive; however, a word of caution: This is an economy on caffeine, and the positive outlook relies on the economy staying caffeine-high. How long this caffeine lasts, however, is an open question,” he said.

According to Feliciano, retailers expect the caffeine will last through the Christmas season. Although all that is possible, by no means is it certain. “This would last as long as the money keeps flowing and it could last longer if we perform the structural reforms we need to implement, such as privatization of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, charter schools, income-tax credit and the like,” Feliciano noted.

“So, the future could be quite optimistic, but the uncertainty, such as the timing of the permanent construction work and execution of the structural reforms, as long as we do those changes while the money is flowing, we are going to be great because, when the money stops flowing, we will have already performed the reforms and the economy would be sustainable,” he emphasized.

Another important factor Feliciano mentioned is that everything must be tempered with enthusiasm. “When talking about retail sales, it’s about the demographics because there was an outmigration [of residents] after Hurricane Maria. That reduction in the population must have an impact on sales. Now, the population that has stayed has more disposable income than it used to, so that’s positive on retail sales. There are fewer people, and that is not positive for retail sales,” Feliciano stressed.

However, according to economist Gustavo Vélez, of the 400,000 people who left after Hurricane Maria, 80 percent returned, according to figures provided by the Puerto Rico Ports Authority. Therefore, he understands this repopulation should help the retail sector this Christmas.

Unlike the United States, where there is a report on consumer confidence, that statistic does not exist in Puerto Rico. Some observers say that using automobile and real-estate sales figures as a metric represents an investment commitment for several years, and it can provide a good indication of consumer confidence.

According to Vélez’s projections, car sales are growing. For 2018, 100,000 to 110,000 units are expected to be sold, surpassing last year’s nearly 85,000 cars sold. As for sales of existing homes, according to the economist, there has been an notable increase in this market.

‘Tis the season’ for malls

Although Puerto Rico shopping centers were affected by the 2017 hurricanes, this year they have experienced increased commercial activity, sales and consumer traffic, which is why they are prepared for the Christmas holiday season.

For example, occupancies in shopping centers such as Plaza Las Américas and Plaza del Caribe are at 93 percent and 91 percent, respectively. Both malls have more stores open than they did last year. Plaza Las Américas has opened 20 new stores and is expected to open an additional eight stores by the end of this year. In terms of sales, in the 12 months that ended June 2018, Plaza Las Américas had increased sales of 29 percent, while Plaza del Caribe’s increased 21 percent, stated Lorraine Vissepó, spokesperson for Plaza Las Américas and Plaza del Caribe, in a written statement.

In the meantime, this year’s total number of visitors to Plaza Las Américas reflect 12 percent growth through June 2018, compared to last year. At Plaza del Caribe, although specific figures were not available, the Ponce mall assured the increase in visits is equally remarkable. “We hope to sustain this sales growth this Christmas season because, last year, due to the island’s special circumstances and the large number of stores and shopping centers that remained closed due to damages from the hurricane or a lack of electricity, sales were significantly higher than normal for this date,” Vissepó said. “The traffic in visitors should be maintained at more than 10 percent growth due to the island’s special circumstances last year when we received even greater numbers of visits,” she added.

Meanwhile, the general manager of the Mall of San Juan, José Ayala Bonilla, pointed out in an interview with Caribbean Business that with a total of 106 occupied commercial spaces, the luxury mall is happy to be in better condition compared to last year. Now that most of the space is available, the mall also has more stores open than before hurricanes Irma and Maria struck last year. As for sales per square foot, the Mall of San Juan is very pleased because, compared to last year up to August 2018, the mall has seen a 30 percent increase. Therefore, although it had been the trend until August, it is understood that this growth will continue during the Christmas season.

“We understand that the offer is still a very good one, which adds to what already existed in the past in the market. We continue to focus on having brands that are not available at other shopping centers because 60 percent of the brands at the Mall of San Juan remain unique to this market, inviting customers to look for offers they had previously seen in other jurisdictions, and now they are available in Puerto Rico,” Bonilla emphasized.

The Mall of San Juan is making a comeback with such anchor tenants as Nordstroms reopening just in time for the holiday rush.

“We’ve seen growth in overall customer traffic as well as total sales, and we’ve seen that the customer is responding to the offers we have at the Mall of San Juan, and they continue to sponsor us, so it has been growing,” Bonilla noted. “People are very happy and eager to celebrate a ‘normal’ Christmas period compared to last year. It can be seen in the activity and traffic in the shopping center and the spirit of this Christmas season. For the moment, stores are commenting that activity has been quite active over the past weeks,” Bonilla stressed.

Beyond the shopping centers, activity can be seen with people decorating, buying and making plans to have their gifts ready for Christmas. Although typical during this season, executives say it is even more evident this year because of the cash flow that came in after Maria, so money is flowing into the economy.

On the other hand, black-friday.global/es-pr—part of the Picodi.com smart shopping platform designed to help shoppers around the world save money online for this year’s Black Friday shopping event—surveyed 12,000 participants from 55 countries. Results reveal that the percentage of what they call “bargain hunters” will increase to 65.63 percent for the 2018 Black Friday in Puerto Rico, after reaching 42.94 percent last year. In addition, 74.41 percent of consumers would prefer to make purchases in both physical and online stores, compared to the 44.94 percent who participated in 2017.

The survey results also highlight that an average Puerto Rican will spend about $210 during Black Friday, mostly on clothing, electronics and footwear. The average discount available in Puerto Rico stores is about 60 percent, while savings will be about $315.

In addition, the organization Empresarios por Puerto Rico, or Businesspeople for Puerto Rico, celebrated on Nov. 21, the 2018 edition of “Miércoles Naranja,” or “Orange Wednesday,” when more than 1,000 local businesses joined together to offer discounts on products and services along with a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of supporting Puerto Rican trade, services and products.

The initiative involved pharmacies, hardware stores, florists, supermarkets, wholesalers, savings and credit cooperatives, and other businesses as well as a wide range of services. “In a country where 96 percent of companies are local, we are convinced the ‘Miércoles Naranja’ event should become a commercial tradition,” said the president of Empresarios por Puerto Rico, Enid Monge de Pastrana, in a release.

Monge de Pastrana also announced the launching of the educational campaign “Dale fuerza a Puerto Rico,” or “Give strength to Puerto Rico,” in both traditional media and social networks, explaining the reasons for supporting local commerce and what it means for the local economy at this time. Founded four years ago, the entity brings together various local products and services companies from a wide range of sectors. Together, their partners employ more than 50,000 people.




Puerto Rico gov’t offers construction workshops to certify $15 pay

SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced the start of a series of workshops to certify current and new construction workers in order to increase the workforce to address the recovery work after Hurricane Maria.

The first training cycle, “Así Construimos,” or “This is how we Build,” will take place at the Puerto Rico Convention Center on Dec. 11 and 12 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The courses will be free of charge, but pre-registration is required on www.construimos.pr, beginning Tuesday, Oct. 30.

The governor said Puerto Rico will receive more than $70 billion in reconstruction funds. Among the funds are over $37 billion for reconstruction from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than $19 billion in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and insurance payouts, thus a trained workforce to perform these works will be required.

He said the government estimates there are 40,000 to 45,000 construction workers in Puerto Rico, but to “maximize the opportunities for residents within the recovery work,” the objective is to raise that figure to 150,000.

“Our government has directed a process to prepare this new labor force, visualizing all the capital that will arrive in the island, so it is imperative to have all the companies and personnel ready to work and build more effectively and quickly,” Rosselló said.

The executive director of the Central Office of Recovery and Reconstruction (COR3), Omar Marrero, specified that this first training series will count as 15 “contact hours” for credits in several skills such as joinery, masonry, electrical, plumbing and painting.

The workshops will provide basic knowledge of Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations and Puerto Rico’s building code. They are also intended to teach workers about industry regulations and best practices, as well as construction-work laws and regulations.

The seminars are expected to be carried out across the island’s municipalities in the future.

To questions from the press about the resources that will be used to offer the workshops, Marrero said the courses will be conducted by various agencies in conjunction with private sector suppliers. The official stressed that the first workshops have a 500-person quota, meaning the first who register on the website, www.construimos.pr

Marrero explained that the idea of the workshops is for participants to be certified so they can earn the $15 an hour minimum wage for construction workers in government contracts.

Economic Development Manuel Laboy highlighted the efforts of the administration to professionalize and provide resources to workers “to address the recovery of Puerto Rico in a holistic manner,” and the “maximization of federal funds,” initiatives with the Department of Education for the technical development in vocational schools as well as asking Puerto Ricans stateside to return to work on the island’s reconstruction.




On its 40th anniversary, Cidrines Bakery exports hot out of the oven

SAN JUAN – Los Cidrines, the Puerto Rican chain of bakeries and pastry shops, is celebrating 40 years since opening its first store in the municipality of Arecibo in 1978 with its sights set on expanding its products and services in the stateside market.

As a result of the dramatic growth the company has achieved in the past two years, the percentage of its bread sales in the mainland United States has risen from 10% to 15% of its total production to between 40% and 50% today.

Currently, Cidrines exports its bread production from its Arecibo plant to 18 East and South coast states, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands. The bread is sold at chains such as Bravo, Fiesta Supermarkets, Kroger, Sedano’s, Winn Dixie and Walmart. Part of the company’s expansion plans include reaching every state by June. It is also analyzing the Dominican Republic market to expand its offer in the Caribbean.

The commercial director of Los Cidrines, Guillermo Cidre, said that “the emigration of Hispanics to the United States, and in particular of Puerto Ricans, is an important opportunity for Los Cidrines” and added that for the latter, to consume the brands they recognize is a way to connect with their roots.

Guillermo Cidre, María Cidre and Manolo Cidre (Courtesy)

Cidrines is certified by the Safe Quality Food Institute, which reflects its commitment to quality in its production processes, as the audit program is the only one of its kind recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative.

Cidrines President Maria Cidre said many stateside businesses do not consider selling any product that is not SQF-certified. Cidrines is the only baking operation in Puerto Rico exporting stateside with the certification.

“Since we started our export program in the early 2000s, we saw the opportunity to grow and we got to know the market. We have a great participation in sales in both the Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities,” María Cidre said.

She explained that the arrival of Cidrines bread to the current 18 states came after establishing themselves in Florida for several years.

The executive said that part of the company’s growth is due to the fact that the diaspora continues to spread the word about the brand’s presence in the states, along with stores requesting to sell the bread in their locations.

In states ranging from Wisconsin to New Mexico, many businesses request having Cidrines bread to put on sale. The store with the highest sales volume of Cidrines bread is in Rochester, New York.

“For the most part, artisanal bread sold in supermarkets is generic, without a brand or with the store’s own brand, but many have set up a section dedicated to Cidrines bread,” the executive said.

“We are a Made in Puerto Rico product, with great pride that translates into a genuine and tangible social commitment to the community and our support to entities that aspire, through their efforts, to improve the quality of life of our people. This duty is not limited to donating products, but rather includes, in a prominent way, the donation of our best asset: our human resources,” she emphasized.

Although in Puerto Rico Cidrines has continued to grow as well, part of that success in both the stateside and local markets is due to the fact that after Cidrines added more work shifts with more jobs in the Arecibo plant, it created more than 250 direct jobs and over 500 indirect jobs.

In addition, production efficiency was maximized in terms of pounds of bread per hour. Cidrines co-founder Manuel Cidre stressed at a press conference that the company exports more than 150 cargo containers of bread a year.

“In each step of our evolution, we have learned. I learned that an error, like a bread recipe that was sweeter than expected, can, in fact, make way for an uncontemplated opportunity; I learned there is no need to fear having to face a larger competitor; I learned that bread does not have a demographic profile and is sought by university students, retirees and professionals. I learned that Puerto Ricans buy baked bread on impulse. We took bread out of the bakeries to places where nobody expects the smell of hot bread: pharmacies, gas stations and supermarkets,” said Manuel Cidre, while stressing that each lesson was a step in the business’ development.

“Proud of our history, there is something more we learned on the eve of the next 40 years: Sobao bread is no longer Cidrines’s. It’s the bread of Puerto Ricans–from the small businesses that sell to or serve us, to the families that eat it in Puerto Rico and the world,” he said.




New residential development in Puerto Rico aims for community inclusion

Editor’s note: The following article first appeared in the May 31-June 6, 2018, issue of Caribbean Business.

Real-estate development firm McCormack Baron Salazar Inc. (MBS) and the Puerto Rico Housing Department presented a new apartment community, Bayshore Villas, in the former Puerto de Tierra public housing community, for people with a mixed income to stimulate additional investments in that sector.

The development, established through a public-private partnership (P3) at a cost of $41.3 million, was financed with $27.8 million in private capital provided by Alden Capital Partners and Citibank NA through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program administered by the Housing Finance Authority of Puerto Rico (AFV by its Spanish initials). In addition, the Housing Department provided $13.5 million through funding from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). Meanwhile, Citi Community Capital provided a construction loan.

“Bayshore Villas takes into consideration the Bahía Urbana master plan, which will greatly benefit residents because the new and modern coastal urban project will offer jobs and provide walking access to restaurants, shops and other community services,” said Daniel Acosta, senior vice president & project manager at McCormack Baron Salazar.

(Courtesy)

Located a few steps from Bahía Urbana, San Juan Bay’s waterfront-area revitalization initiative, the development consists of a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in a four-story mixed-use building, three-story walk-ups and three-story townhouse buildings. Along the waterfront, the nine-acre community has access to the Rapid Transit Bus line on Calle del Tren.

Of the 174 new units, 78 percent is reserved for families earning 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, including some accessible as public housing, and the remaining 22 percent of the units available at market prices.

“There is a relocation plan prepared by the Housing Department that gives priority to residents who previously lived in the public housing project to reapply and qualify for a unit in this new project,” Acosta said.

The development also includes about 6,000 square feet of commercial space, a 3,300-square-foot administration office with management space, community room with business center area and fitness room.

The community offers outdoor exercise stations, walking trails, playgrounds, community gardens, and controlled access to parking and buildings.

In addition to the amenities, the development team designed the community with hurricane-resistant features that include hurricane-rated windows, doors and roofs, as well as reinforced structural components. The site also manages stormwater runoff to reduce the impact of heavy rains.

When asked by Caribbean Business how this P3 project was managed in the context of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa) and the island’s fiscal situation, Acosta explained that it began with a bidding process through a request for proposals with qualifications requested by the Housing Department in 2014, when Promesa was not yet in effect.

The sales closure of Bayshore Villas, he further said, was achieved in November 2016, and although Promesa had come into force several months earlier, all transaction-related documents and budgets were approved because they used HUD funds as well as credits.

Bayshore is the second development that MBS and the Housing Department have worked on as a P3. The first was Renaissance Square, after the former Las Gladiolas housing project near the Golden Mile financial district in Hato Rey was imploded in July 2011.

With a total of 140 available apartments for rent, the Renaissance Square, Housing Department, MBS and private investor partnership reached $35.5 million. An open house was held in December.

Sixty percent of the new mixed-use community is reserved for very low-income families, 20 percent for the working class, and 20 percent are rented at current market prices.

(Courtesy)

The MBS and Housing Department are working on two additional developments at the José Gautier Benítez public-housing site in Caguas. Among these new projects is a 238-unit mixed-income complex similar to Renaissance Square and Bayshore Villas, where 25 percent is geared to the open market.

The second is a 200-unit project for people older than 60, which is subsidized by HUD, the Housing Department and tax credits. “For this project, there are no units for the free market because the need in Caguas for elderly people has increased,” Acosta explained.

The project received tax credits, as well as federal housing funds, and is in the process of completing private investment. Acosta said the financial phase of the project should close by the beginning of fall and the construction process should begin at the end of the year.

Intending to continue developing more projects, Acosta said the MBS is talking to mayors from various municipalities that have the need to develop these projects, so partnerships can be established to send the Housing Department requests to develop more residential units.




Puerto Rican clothing chain Roma bets on men’s market

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rican clothing store chain Roma opened Thursday its ninth store on the island. The new location, in Guaynabo’s San Patricio Village, will focus on serving the men’s market, with its sights specifically set on expanding its market and catering to the island’s millennial population.

In an interview with Caribbean Business, Executive Director Lourimer Rodríguez explained that the opening of the third store in the area, which is the chain’s second geared exclusively for men, comes about after experiencing a sales growth in the market niche last year.

Therefore, in addition to keeping their traditional clientele of adults and baby boomers, merchandise for young adults age 25 and older is available, such as joggers, shirts with eye-catching prints, skinny jeans, bold colors, among other products.

The executive director of the clothing store chain Roma, Lourimer Rodríguez. (Courtesy)

The executive said that with the new location, the $2 million in sales mark is expected to be surpassed along with the other two stores in the San Patricio area, which currently generate more than $1 million in sales.

“Despite the situation of the passage of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, we have no doubt that we can act with quick decisions, preserving a product that remains with the passage of time, providing good service and prices; there’s no reason to lose in this market,” she said.

Rodríguez recalled that the new store is the fourth opened during the past year, and required a more than $300,000 investment. The three locations that opened during said period are in Barceloneta, the Montehiedra urbanization in the suburb of Cupey and San Juan’s Condado borough.

The 5,000-square-foot establishment, now the workplace for 10 people, is located on the first level of San Patricio Plaza, in the former Men’s Wearhouse locale.

Among the distinctive features of the new store, is “Zona Giorno,” which makes the shopping experience more entertaining by adding such extras as a bar area, a domino table, a barber chair, a TV, as well as providing tailoring services.

Rodríguez said the addition of the comfort amenities’ purpose is for customers to be able to leave the new location with other experiences, to address the issue that 30% of purchases that customers made at stores, are now made online

“The shopping experience is increasingly changing. We want that, in Roma, in addition to the service we offer with fashion consultants while they try on clothes or tailors do special jobs, they can also have a good experience,” she said.

Looking to the future, the chain is exploring the opening of a fully online store, as many customers are requesting, as well as the opening of stateside locations such as in Florida.

Since its foundation on the island 38 years ago, the Puerto Rican company continues to offer clothing and accessories for women and men. From casual attire to outfits for special occasions, customers are provided fashion consulting to make their selection a unique experience.




Samsung bets on an improved user experience with its new Galaxy S9, S9+

SAN JUAN — Tech giant Samsung announced Thursday the launch of its new Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ smartphones in Puerto Rico, with new functionality aimed at improving the user experience.

Among the new features offered in the new device is the camera, which comes with a high-speed, double-pixel sensor with dedicated processing and memory power that can combine up to 12 frames in one shot to record audio-visual material at the highest quality possible.

With the possibility of having a double aperture, it automatically allows more light to enter when it is dark and less when it is too bright, resulting in sharp and clear photos anytime, anywhere.

The new camera includes “Super Slow-mo” video, capable of capturing 960 frames per second with automatic “Motion Detection,” an intelligent feature that detects movement in the frame and captures it automatically.

The S9 includes an improved camera lens and augmented reality technology to create personalized emojis, among other new features. (Jaime Rivera/CB)

Meanwhile, augmented reality technology, dubbed “AR Emoji,”uses a data-based machine learning algorithm, which analyzes a 2D image of the user and maps out more than 100 facial features to create a 3D model that reflects and imitates expressions to create a 3D model that reflects and imitates expressions, such as blinking and head movement, for an accurate personalization.

AR Emoji has a range of stickers, including integrated classic Disney characters, using a standard AGIF file format so that users can share their emojis on most messaging platforms.

Meanwhile, Bixby, Samsung’s intelligence platform, is integrated into the camera and uses augmented reality and deep learning technologies to offer useful information about a user’s surroundings.

Users can translate foreign languages and convert currency in real time with “Live Translation,” learn about their surroundings, purchase products seen in the real world and monitor calories throughout the day.

In addition, Samsung integrated stereo speakers at both ends of the device and had international sound manufacturing company AKG tune them.

Samsung launches Galaxy S9 with focus on social media

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are also compatible with the Dolby Atmos technology, which reproduces sound that virtually places objects as recorded for a 360-degree-like experience.

The new devices are compatible with the new “SmartThings” app, which will allow people who have household devices connected to the “Smart Things hub” to monitor, control and automate the house remotely.

Users may add lights, locks, sensors and other connected devices, whether Samsung-branded or not, to create a smart home.

The new devices have support for three biometric authentication options–iris, fingerprint and facial recognition–and also include Intelligent Scan, a new verification that combines iris and facial recognition to unlock the phone.

A new feature, “Dedicated Fingerprint” gives users the option of using a fingerprint different from the one used to unlock the phone to access the phone’s Secure Folder.

 

The S9s also integrate an improved optical sensor, which provides more thorough and accurate information on, for example, a user’sHeart Load Factor, a new measurement of the real-time demand placed on the heart.

 

Samsung kept some of the features of the Galaxy series, such as IP68 water and dust resistance certification, and wireless charging.

Samsung Latin America Product Manager Albin Strothers (Jaime Rivera/CB)

In addition to all these features, Samsung Electronics’ Latin America product manager, Albin Strothers, highlighted in an interview with Caribbean Business that the S9s have other features to improving user experience as well.

He emphasized support for expandable memory of up to 400GB with a Micro SD Card and kept the headphone jack despite other smartphone manufacturers removing it.

When asked about the impact Samsung has had on the local smartphone market, Strothers said that since the launch of the Galaxy S8, demand for Galaxy line has increased 1.2 times on the island.

Online sales began Thursday evening on the Claro website, as well as in stores Friday. Last year, he said, more than 1,000 units were sold the first day.

 

Claro Puerto Rico President Enrique Ortiz confirmed a VIP Sale Thursday night. (Jaime Rivera/CB)

Puerto Rico customers were able to purchase the phone one day before the worldwide launch, with Claro Puerto Rico Chairman Enrique Ortiz, explaining they were the only ones to market the Galaxy S9 and S9 + with storage capacity of 128 GB, instead of 64 GB, in Midnight Black, Coral Blue and a new hue, Lilac Purple.

Although the price of the S9 starts at $719.99 and the S9 + at $839.99, Ortiz announced that Claro was opening several of its stores Friday and give the first 1,000 customers who buy the device a Harman Kardon Onyx speaker, free of charge, adding $549.99 in credits and gifts.

The device will also be available under the Claro Update Plus plan, with $0 down and $0 interest in unlimited plans that do not throttle data speed, starting at $50 a month.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ Product Specifications




ICANN Holds International Cyberspace Conference in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN – The Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names & Numbers (ICANN) held its 61st meeting in Puerto Rico March 10-15 at the Convention Center in San Juan, becoming one of the first international conferences on the island after Hurricane Maria’s passage through the region.

In an interview with Caribbean Business, Pablo Rodríguez, vice president of Puerto Rico Top Level Domain (PRTLD), stressed the activity is expected to inject $10 million to $12 million into the local economy, especially in the hotel industry, as many of the lodgings in the greater metro area contain a lot of guests attending the event.

He also explained that about 2,500 people, including representatives from more than 150 countries, including heads of state, among others, participate through the different committees that comprise ICANN.

About the world event, Rodríguez said, “We are talking about the type of conference in which many people in a room do not feel like listening to a speaker, but there are more than 400 simultaneous sessions in which all kinds of business will be discussed—the A to Z related to the internet.”

The PRTLD, in addition to being the only organization authorized worldwide to administer the country code—“.pr”—representing Puerto Rico and its users on the internet, works with ICANN to maintain a stable, secure and interoperable network configuration to promote competition and the development of policies for these unique identifiers.

Rodríguez emphasized that part of the PRTLD’s purpose on the island is to provide entrepreneurs their identity on the internet, so they work directly with each merchant to provide a low cost or even free name for their domains with the “.pr” extension.

Meanwhile, ICANN is the worldwide nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining the safe management of the internet, as well as its interoperability, through the development of policies on the internet’s unique identifiers through the coordination of the internet’s domain name system (DNS).

On the achievements ICANN has obtained, the president of the organization’s global domains division, Akram Atallah, told Caribbean Business that the organization has been able to transition to version six of internet protocol addresses (IPv6) as these interconnection policies are regularly updated.

These changes seek to expand the address capacity that allows hosting the internet from its original design; in the not-so-distant past there were fewer computers connected and, therefore, version four of internet protocol addresses (IPv4) was sufficient.

To allow more devices to more efficiently connect to the cybernetics network, he said it was essential to expand these addresses to IPv6 to ensure all electronic devices that use the internet can access it without problems.

In addition, the executive said that as part of ICANN’s efforts to benefit internet users, the organization includes more than 1,200 top-level domain names around the world.

This action has the purpose that cities, as well as brands and geographic areas, are identified within the DNS to expand that registry, to promote competition among users by transferring their identity to cyberspace.

With this DNS expansion, Atallah indicated the policy for security protocol for the domain name system guarantees all users, who access any internet page, that the data they receive is correct and no external agents enter to affect the connection.




Puerto Rico to hold first tech innovation awards

SAN JUAN – Despite Hurricane Maria’s passage across the island, the Puerto Rico Information Technology Cluster (PRITC) continues set to hold the island’s first technology industry Innovation Awards on Friday, May 11, during the fifth edition of the CIO & Leadership Conference to be held at the Sheraton Hotel & Casino Convention Center in San Juan.

In an interview with Caribbean Business, José Huyke, PRITC board secretary, who is also in charge of the award process, said those interested in nominating an individual or company from the community of organizations focused on information technology that operate locally, either startups or multinationals that implement technology on and off the island will have until next Friday, Feb. 16, to do so through the event’s webpage.

José Huyke, PRITC board secretary, pointed out that many other jurisdictions have similar recognition events that have been positive, and stressed it should be done in Puerto Rico as well. (Efrén Rodríguez / CB)

He also stressed that although this is the first time these awards will be conferred in conjunction with the CIO & Leadership Conference, they hope to continue this award process from now on, and assured the event is already recognized by the island’s tech industry.

As for the nomination process, Huyke explained that “being that this is the first year in which the PRITC will present these awards, the process will be conducted with the highest standards of quality and transparency. For this, an independent panel of judges has been established, which will carry out its process within the publicly established calendar, and within the rules that are available for review by those interested in participating through the PRITC webpage.”

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There are currently five judges, three of whom are Puerto Ricans living abroad who have experience in the industry. In addition, depending on the number of nominations received, there is the possibility of recruiting additional judges to successfully complete this process.

The initiative also arises from the need to support the island’s efforts to promote the IT sector. “We want to raise recognition of the excellence of the island’s technology industry,” he said.

Recognitions

For these recognitions, there will be five categories: Intellectual Property Award, which will be presented to the individual or organization that has developed the intellectual IT property piece considered the most innovative, ingenious, influential, practical and/or commercially viable during the past year.

IT Project of the Year, which will highlight the organization that conducted and completed an IT development or deployment project considered the most innovative, technologically elaborate, influential and successful.

Likewise, the Tech Exporter of the Year Award is aimed at local people or companies that were most involved in the process of exporting innovative products and/or technological services from Puerto Rico.

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Meanwhile, in the Tech Startup of the Year category, a company will be awarded that is actively developing or has recently completed an innovative product, service, process or IT platform that is considered to have greater potential for commercial success in the coming years.

On the other hand, the Social Impact Award seeks to recognize an individual or organization that, through the use of innovative IT products, services, processes or platforms, has had the most significant positive impact on the well-being of Puerto Rican society.

For more information about the nominations, requirements, terms and conditions, visit www.puertoricoisit.com/pritc-innovation-awards/




Senator proposes moratorium on Puerto Rico foreclosures

SAN JUAN – In light of the high number of foreclosures expected in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Sen. Carmelo Ríos presented Thursday Joint Senate Resolution 199 to implement a moratorium.

The legislation establishes that for any foreclosure process begun on a residence or business after Sept. 20, the property owner may request the procedure be stopped, through a motion in court, until Sept. 30, 2018.

The measure would apply to property used as a principal residence or main commercial property used by the debtor to generate income.

Sen. Carmelo Ríos (María Soledad Dávila/CB)

The court, at its discretion, may evaluate the merits and circumstances of each case to extend that period until Dec. 31.

However, Ríos said at a press conference that moratorium applicants must justify their employment situation and the extraordinary expenses incurred due to not having electric power service, among other hardships, so the court can grant the extension.

He also stressed that people who were behind on their mortgage before the hurricane or were already in the foreclosure process, do not qualify and would have to resort to other legal mechanisms, such as loss-mitigation services.

Up to Sept. 30, the courts would not be permitted to take any action and no claim or judicial proceeding would begin or continue, including conducting auctions or collections pursuant to the resolution.

Payments that were suspended during the moratorium period would be transferred to the end of the original term of the mortgage and paid at the same frequency.

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Meanwhile, loan interest would continue to accrue at the same rate as the original agreement until the loan expires. That is, a monthly payment will be made after the original date of the loan’s expiration date for each month it had been suspended.

The senator also argued that “although it is true the three-month moratorium offered by local banks was a small relief, the island’s situation is still far from having returned to normal.

Owners of mortgaged properties saw relief when the federal government imposed a temporary moratorium on foreclosures. [This action] stopped the banks and investors, who bought mortgages in the market at considerably low prices, from evicting people with mortgages in arrears or beginning new foreclosures. Unfortunately, because the three-month moratorium period has expired, Puerto Rico is facing a wave of foreclosures,” he added.

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Puerto Rico ends 2017 with marked job reductions

SAN JUAN – Results from the latest Puerto Rico Labor Department surveys reveal that for December, the island saw a decline of 45,300 nonfarm payroll jobs compared with the same month in 2016.

Seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment in Puerto Rico, which is based on goods, construction and manufacturing companies, was 847,800 in December. When compared with December 2016, a marked decrease is seen since the figure stood at 893,100 back then.

The industries that registered losses were: transportation, warehousing & utilities (12,300); government (10,900); private education & health services (7,100); manufacturing (4,800); leisure & hospitality (4,700); mining, logging & construction (3,000); financial activities (1,300); professional & business services (1,100); and information (100).

Likewise, for December 2016, the seasonally adjusted estimate of the working population amounted to 1,119,000 people, but compared with December 2017, when the figure was 1,100,000 individuals, reflects a reduction of 19,000 people.

In addition, the labor-force participation rate, not seasonally adjusted, for December 2017 was 40.9%. Thus, this indicator registered a 0.2% decrease compared with December 2016, when it was 41.1%.

Meanwhile, data by age group in December 2017 show people ages 35 to 44 have the highest level of labor participation, at 71.4%, among the financially active population.

The labor participation rate registered by men for December 2017 was 49.3%, compared to 33.4% for women.

It should be noted that in October 2017, the labor participation rate stood at 38.6%, which was its lowest level in 27 years. Meanwhile, during that same period, salaried employment on the island was the lowest since at least 1990, at 842,000.

Labor Secretary Carlos Saavedra explained that the effects from hurricanes Irma and Maria continue to be evident in the labor market since both salaried employment and the total number of employed people continue below the levels before the September storms. In turn, the level of employment in Puerto Rico last December was below the previous year.

“The labor market is still not at the levels prior to the passage of two unprecedented natural phenomena, so there is much work to be done to lift Puerto Rico after the onslaught of these atmospheric phenomena and an economic crisis entering its second decade,” Saavedra said.

Labor force recovers slightly in Puerto Rico after hurricanes

Puerto Rico labor force rate at lowest in 27 years