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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

White House economic dialogue targets 4 areas for development agenda in PR

Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves estimated that about $100 billion will be invested in Puerto Rico but most of the federal funding is money that has been already allocated, including hurricane disaster funding and money from the Inflation Reduction Act.

By The Star Staff

The White House economic dialogue held Tuesday with local officials to jumpstart the U.S. territory’s economic development consists of a slate of actions and partnerships that will be implemented over the course of 2023 on different fronts in hopes they will jumpstart the island economy and improve quality of life.

Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves estimated Wednesday that about $100 billion will be invested in Puerto Rico but most of the federal funding is money that has been already allocated, including hurricane disaster funding and money from the Inflation Reduction Act.

“We are trying to ensure our processes are not a barrier to unlocking dollars,” said Graves, who also serves as Puerto Rico economic growth coordinator.

Graves noted that in travels to Puerto Rico he also met with community leaders to ensure the initiatives do not result in further displacement of Puerto Rico residents from their own island.

The initiatives are the result of a meeting chaired by Graves together with Puerto Rico’s leadership and the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico to chart a comprehensive plan for joint action to further the island’s economic growth. During the meeting, federal agencies and their Puerto Rico counterparts endorsed a slate of actions and priorities to improve coordination and management of disaster recovery and other funding, and ensure long-term partnership, respect and transparency. Over the next 12 months, both governments will take steps together to: 1) strengthen human capital and workforce development to create more good jobs and training opportunities in high-growth industries for Puerto Rico’s workers; 2) invest in infrastructure, energy and resilience to ensure Puerto Rico can withstand future natural disasters and support a thriving, sustainable economy; 3) build a diversified economy that promotes innovation, competition, access to capital, and entrepreneurship, particularly for Puerto Rico’s small businesses; and 4) improve governance and data collection and analysis in Puerto Rico to support greater transparency, access to information, administrative capacity and a more robust business climate for Puerto Rico residents.

Starting today and over the next several editions, the STAR will run down the proposed actions and partnerships to be undertaken on the aforementioned four fronts.

Firstly, the federal and Puerto Rican agencies announced the following new actions in the area of human capital and workforce development:

The Comisión de Voluntariado y Servicio Comunitario de Puerto Rico, with support from AmeriCorps, will implement a state service plan to expand national service in Puerto Rico and conduct extensive outreach for the open Public Health AmeriCorps Notice of Funding Opportunity to support pathways to employment in the public health sector. AmeriCorps will also use American Rescue Plan funds to add AmeriCorps VISTA projects and members in Puerto Rico.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the island Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC) will partner to connect recipients of the Nutritional Assistance Plan food assistance block grant to workforce development opportunities.

The government of Puerto Rico will invest $50 million to launch the 21st Century Workforce Project to build workforce training infrastructure across the higher education and technical college systems. The Puerto Rico Department of Education and DDEC, with technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Education, will also update Puerto Rico’s Career & Technical Education curriculum to more closely align it with the island’s labor industry needs.

The Department of Energy (DOE) will partner with the Green Energy Trust, University of Puerto Rico (UPR), and other stakeholders to build local capacity and expertise on emerging energy topics, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, microgrid design and operation, and electric vehicles.

The island Family Department and UPR will enter into a new memorandum of understanding, with support from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to outline a plan to maintain a pool of social workers, prioritize retention strategies, and mitigate high caseloads while increasing salary rates through Title IV-E funding.

HHS, the Census Bureau, USDA and DDEC will jointly develop digital tools that link job-seekers with competency training, apprenticeships, and employment within high-growth industries including healthcare.

DDEC and the Department of Labor (DOL) will expand the use of Registered Apprenticeship in critical sectors of the Puerto Rican economy, including construction, advanced manufacturing, transportation, hospitality, and health care. With support from DOL, DDEC and the Puerto Rico Department of Labor and Human Resources have committed to increasing federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act fund utilization by $15 million by the end of the 2023 fiscal year, unlocking greater investment in workforce training and development initiatives.

The Economic Development Administration will invest $6.7 million through a new partnership with UnidosUS and the One Stop Career Center of Puerto Rico to provide workforce training in high-growth construction and aviation sectors.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Ana G. Méndez University in Bayamón will enter a partnership to strengthen local workforce training for mold, lead, and asbestos remediation, advancing environmental justice, job placement, and resilience.

To be continued in the next edition.

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