Sunday, December 8, 2019

Women Who Lead Summit to Feature Economic Take on Puerto Rico

By on January 25, 2019

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the Jan. 24-30, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

The sixth edition of the “Women Who Lead” economic summit this year features economists Heidie Calero, president of H. Calero Consulting Group Inc., and Prof. Tonia Warnecke, of Rollins College in Florida, who will present on Feb. 6 their expert takes on how to lift up Puerto Rico’s economy nearly a year and a half after the devastation from Hurricane Maria.

For Dr. Warnecke, who is the chair of Social Entrepreneurship at Rollins College, global economic trends are determinants for the local economy. She emphasized that in addition to U.S. factors, there are other external ones linked to the island’s economic development.

“It is of great importance to think about global economic trends. It’s important that all businessowners think about the importance of money and the changes in monetary flows. And not just what happens in Puerto Rico or the mainland USA, but also what’s happening in the entire world,” the professor stressed.

“This is because global economic trends influence everything from natural disaster assistance to the likelihood of young people wanting to stay on the island or leave [looking] for work. It influences economic certainty, for example, with what’s going on right now with the uncertainty in trade agreements between China and the U.S. It’s causing some concerns for businesses, and we can even see an impact on a corporation like Apple already, from their China operations,” she added.

Warnecke also said she will speak about such concepts as energy poverty and social entrepreneurship, the former referring to the lack of access to energy at homes and businesses, and the latter to the development of companies that generate profits while also addressing social and environmental problems.

“It is really serious when people don’t have access to energy to conduct their household needs, and we are talking here about basic energy and electricity access. This can also have an impact on overall business operations, and energy poverty is really hitting Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricanes,” Warnecke said about the issue.

“[Social entrepreneurship] is business for social change, it is about entrepreneurship but with a mission of creating a social or environmental impact. You can think of it in terms of a business that is dealing with recycling, pollution, education or healthcare, or even employing a disadvantaged population. There are many ways a business could become a social enterprise, but the core is that the main focus of the business is to change the world for the better,” she explained.

For her part, Calero, the veteran local economist, said her summit presentation addresses how the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Maria is shaping Puerto Rico’s economic future.

Study results to be revealed

Her presentation, she said, “is on how Hurricane Maria forges the future of the country; to tell the audience about the magnitude of the damage— that we are not talking about a little, we are talking about $159 billion. To tell them about what Puerto Rico has to do to lift itself up, using a conceptual model,” Calero said, while emphasizing that the current situation is “different than [Hurricane] Hugo [in 1989] or [Hurricane] Georges [in 1998], precisely because the economy was not in recession then; however, when Maria arrived, we were already in recession, not five years, but a recession of 11 years,” she added.

Calero will also reveal the results of a study, “How Hurricane Maria Forges Puerto Rico’s Economic Future,” that her consulting firm conducted, in which specific strategies are posited to move Puerto Rico’s economy forward and temper it to the changes and challenges of the 21st century.

“We are presenting a conceptual model of what needs to be done to put the country on its feet and concentrate on four key sectors: tourism, infrastructure, agriculture and essential services such as higher education, health and finance. All efforts, whether public policy or federal funds, should be geared toward these points,” the expert argued.

The study, she explained, presents a thorough evaluation of those sectors, which together with the conceptual model to be presented, could represent a business opportunity for the island.

The study also delves into governance issues in Puerto Rico, the relationship between the central government, the fiscal oversight board and municipalities, as well as their need to unite in one voice.

“Whoever gives economic projections here is absurd because there are too many moving parts; that is, many external factors, such as what will be the total amount of federal money received to mitigate the disaster; what date [funds] will arrive; to whom they will be sent, if to the government or the municipalities; and the greatest risk Puerto Rico has: migration. With these four moving parts, we paint three scenarios of what could be possible within that range, of what can happen between now and 2025,” she explained.

The panel discussion will be moderated by the executive editor of Caribbean Business, Philipe Schoene Roura.


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