Sunday, December 16, 2018

Puerto Rico Energy Market in Czech Sights

By on November 30, 2018

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

Puerto Rican businesspeople could be traveling to the Czech Republic to evaluate the possibilities of creating business on the island thanks to new energy policies that require the diversification of energy production sources.

For the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the United States, Hynek Kmoníček, who recently visited the island as part of the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the republic, the idea of doing energy-related business in Puerto Rico took him by surprise.

Hynek Kmoníček, Czech Republic Ambassador to the United States

“I didn’t know before I came here; energy was not on my radar. Originally, before, I had this preconception [that Puerto Rico was] the land of sand and beaches, and that’s nice, but tourism is only 4 percent [of the economy] to us and 7 percent for you, and that doesn’t feed a country,” Kmoníček said in an exclusive interview with Caribbean Business.

The diplomat explained that the recent government-driven changes in energy policy create business opportunities that previously did not exist for Czech entrepreneurs.

He pointed out that the Czech Republic recently inaugurated a multimillion-dollar expansion of a hydrogen-powered plant in Charleston, Tenn., which has become a key U.S. investment point for that country.

The Czech economy is one of the most developed and stable in Europe, with a 4.3 percent gross domestic product growth in 2017 and unemployment that barely hits 3 percent.

“For the first time in the new Czech history, we have investors coming to the U.S. to invest. Just in the past two years, we created 7,000 new jobs in the United States with the money of our investors,” Kmoníček said.

“The question that investors usually ask their ambassador is, ‘Where? If I have this type of industry, where in the United States should I put it? What will the comparative advantage be if I put it in California, Tennessee or Puerto Rico?’ That is basically what we are trying to get with the head of my Trade Department here. We want to find the comparative advantage of Puerto Rico for potential Czech business,” the ambassador explained.

Kmoníček, who earned a master’s degree in classical guitar and pedagogy from University of South Bohemia, has served for more than two decades in the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He later earned degrees in English-language studies and classical Arabic studies from Charles University in Prague, as well as modern Middle East history, and Hebrew and Arabic studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“What we expect is that together with the Department of State, we would like to bring a group of select Puerto Rican business people to talk directly to their partners [in the Czech Republic] and tell them [about the benefits of investing in Puerto Rico] directly in the Czech Republic.

But we would like to be very targeted,” he emphasized.

Comparable reality

Speaking about the history of the Czech Republic, whose anniversary has him traveling to several U.S. states and cities, Kmoníček said that due to its central location in Europe, his country, like Puerto Rico, has had to fight to maintain its identity.

“For me, personally, it creates a special type of advantage, what Puerto Rico has with the rest of the Caribbean, and this advantage is not fully utilized,” Kmoníček said.

“I know it’s a question of identity, how to be close to the United States as it helps [the economy] and, at the same time, staying who you are, mainly a Spanish-speaking nation in the Caribbean. You are solving our problem of how to be western without becoming German; how to speak a Slavic language without becoming Russian. So, the question for you is how to save your identity and, at the same time, be Americans,” the diplomat said.

The polyglot ambassador also acknowledged that the United States is changing with the growth of the Latino community, “and my question for you would be: ‘Will that be better for Puerto Rico or worse,’ because it seems to me that the United States of the future will be much closer to what Puerto Rico is now, at least culturally. And the question again is: ‘Would that new reality be better for you or would it be tougher?’”

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