González Colón unveils her economic development program

By John McPhaul

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón unveiled part of her agenda Sunday for promoting the economic development of Puerto Rico in what would be her second four-year term in the United States Congress, targeting manufacturing, making the exemption from air transshipment rules permanent, and inclusion of the island in federal programs and funds, in addition to breaking down trade barriers.

“The best economic development plan that Puerto Rico has is statehood, and to open the way to it, we are working on a concerted strategy in various forums and areas,” González Colón said. “These proposals complement very well what would be our union with the United States. They are focused on bringing jobs here now, in the medium and long term, more investment here, more opportunities here, more creativity here, more aid here.”

Last Friday, President Donald Trump stated in a press conference that he planned to bring back “medical distribution and manufacturing to Puerto Rico at a much greater level than it had before.” That same day, he allocated an additional $10.2 billion for the reconstruction of the electrical grid on the island and more agreements are being negotiated to improve the infrastructure necessary to house the aforementioned industries.

“The [overall] $12.8 billion announced by the White House will upgrade our electrical distribution system and put us in a position of being more competitive, particularly in the area of pharmaceutical production,” González Colón said.

The resident commissioner also announced that the U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a $10 million contract to an industry on the island to produce medical equipment related to COVID-19. In August, Trump signed an executive order to increase domestic production of essential medical supplies and eliminate dependence on drug production in foreign jurisdictions, such as China.

González Colón said the actions show the favorable environment regarding the island’s role in the national supply chain as well as her effectiveness in the U.S. capital as, since she was sworn in as a congresswoman, she has been working to maintain and increase the solidity of the pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries on the island.

Since last year, González Colón has advocated for the domestic production of pharmaceutical products being considered a matter of national security. And since February, she has focused her efforts on making Puerto Rico the national headquarters for the manufacture of medical supplies, she said.

Her efforts include filing her own legislation and, having joined other bills that would seek the same objective, she has won support in the House and Senate, and has presented initiatives in this area before the White House, in hearings and meetings in Congress and before various economic groups on the island.

“We cannot risk [losing] the progress we have made in directing the solidification of our economy based on a manufacturing industry,” the resident commissioner said. “The progress we have made has been with hard work and a joining of wills. It cannot be spoiled; we must continue so that people here have real opportunities for progress. We cannot break down to start from scratch. This is not the time to go back to the past; now we are building the future.”

González Colón promoted her MMEDS Act bill, which she considers comprehensive because it seeks to benefit Puerto Rico and any other area in the United States that is economically depressed. Under the legislation, the federal government would grant tax credits to manufacturers in exchange for their investment in the community so that good jobs are created and maintained. The initiative, the resident commissioner said, is the opposite of corporate maintenance whereby loans are given to companies without requiring them to invest in their home base.

As an example of the excellence of the resources on the island, the resident commissioner highlighted the recognition of Coca Cola Puerto Rico Bottlers with the Coca Cola North America President’s Award for its excellence in the quality of its work, and the recent approval granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the only pharmaceutical company led by women in the nation, GK Pharmaceuticals in Manatí, of an emergency use authorization for the production of one of the components of COVID-19 detection tests. González Colón noted that the authorization was obtained largely through her efforts.

The resident commissioner also seeks to ally the University of Puerto Rico, the island government and manufacturing companies to create what has been called a manufacturing board to develop intellectual property such as patents, something that will have an impact in the medium and long terms, which in turn will help with talent retention.

Intellectual property rights would be retained by the local government to use as incentives for further research. To carry out this initiative, work would be done so that different universities in Puerto Rico are accessing federal funds to increase the capacity of their research and development centers.

One of González Colón’s commitments was to obtain an exemption from the air transshipment rules, which allows foreign airlines to conduct certain cargo and passenger transfer services at international airports in Puerto Rico. This makes the island more attractive and competitive for doing business.

González Colón also announced that she will be promoting a transition from the Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN by its Spanish acronym) to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since the nearly 1.5 million participants in PAN in Puerto Rico receive about 30 percent less in monthly benefits compared to the participants in SNAP, the program that applies in the states.

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