Published On: Sun, Jan 8th, 2023

Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the Puerto Rico Economic Dialogue


Thank you all for being here today. As you know, the Biden Administration is investing unprecedented resources in Puerto Rico’s economic growth through many of your agencies, and we are committed to working closely with partners across the archipelago—in communities and in the government, non-profit, and private sectors—to ensure growth is inclusive, resilient, and sustainable. 

Hurricane Fiona has exposed how vulnerable Puerto Rico remains to these types of events and how little recovery efforts at the Federal and local level have progressed due to slow Federal funds disbursements. 

President Biden has asked me to take the lead on bringing together this Administration’s efforts to bolster Puerto Rico’s economic development as the Coordinator for Puerto Rico’s Economic Growth. 

It’s been an honor to build this team and lead these efforts – Puerto Rico is at the heart of the Administration’s work on racial and economic equity.

Governor Pierluisi, thank you to you and your team for your close partnership throughout this process.

When I traveled to Puerto Rico in August, Governor Pierluisi and I discussed our shared commitment to focus every penny on responsibly meeting the needs and expectations of taxpayers.

We agreed on the importance of attracting human capital and workforce development, leveraging resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to develop resilient infrastructure, creating a more diversified economy by attracting new business and facilitating innovation and competition, and building capacity through data-driven solutions to improve measures of economic growth.

This dialogue, anchored in our shared economic agenda and policy priorities, will help to ensure Puerto Rico has the resources and tools it needs to prosper.

I’m committed to ensuring that equity and inclusion are front and center as key anchors for the work that lies ahead.

We are also engaging with civil society, philanthropy, and the private sector as we forge ahead. Last week, I led an event along with Julie, Mitch, and Gene among others with national and Puerto Rican philanthropies to rally and develop partnerships that can enhance local capacity building in the municipios. This was the first time the White House had rallied over a hundred funders focused on Puerto Rico.

Those philanthropies gathered are now pledging millions to Puerto Rico alongside our Dialogue commitments.

The talent and energy that exist in Puerto Rico give me not only hope but excitement about innovative approaches to tackling challenges as we move forward in partnership with you all.

Thank you to your teams who have been providing comprehensive updates into this process including identifying accomplishments over the past year and new specific deliverables that could be achieved in the year ahead. 

I look forward to our discussion and welcome your feedback and partnership.

Agency Deliverable Remarks

This economic dialogue will serve as the catalyst for a series of announcements, anchored in our shared economic agenda and policy priorities, to ensure Puerto Rico has the resources and tools it needs to prosper.

We asked the 15+ agencies engaged in the Puerto Rico IPC to identify measurable, achievable deliverables to be realized over the next six to 12 months aligned around the four key themes of the Dialogue:

  1. Human Capital and Workforce Development: Develop and attract human capital with skills, leadership, and management capabilities aligned with global trends and Puerto Rico’s sectoral needs, leading to more good jobs, robust talent pipelines, and workforce competitiveness.
  2. Infrastructure, Energy, and Resilience: Leverage Hurricane Maria recovery, American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other federal resources to develop a modern, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure on Puerto Rico, with a particular focus on transportation, broadband, and an energy grid capable of delivering reliable and affordable electricity.
  3. Diversified Economy:
    • Capital Flow and Investment. Attract new business to Puerto Rico aligned with the island’s strategic and competitive advantages and committed to sustained investment.
    • Business Enabling Environment. Facilitate innovation, competition, access to capital, and entrepreneurship, with a particular focus on Puerto Rico’s small business ecosystem.
  4. Governance and Data: Build capacity to develop, implement, and sustain locally driven and led solutions to support economic development through increased data/statistical capabilities, improved measures of economic growth, and greater governance transparency.

For every deliverable, each agency was asked to identify an objective that provides a clear goal for ‘what’ could be achieved and associated ‘key results’ based on metrics and a target value that describes what success looks like.  We will use this framework to measure our progress as we move forward with the Dialogue to identify what’s going well and on track, and flag areas that need increased focus to get every deliverable over the finish line over the year ahead.

Agencies were asked to co-develop these workstreams with their agency counterparts in the Government of Puerto Rico to strengthen collaboration between governments and increase staff buy-in. 

We will be announcing these commitments today publicly along with highlights of the Administration’s overall Puerto Rico accomplishments to date.

DOC Deliverable Remarks 

Through the U.S. Commerce Department alone, Puerto Rico will be receiving significant new funding that will help expand access and opportunity through various programs and equities in Puerto Rico. 

That also includes a minimum of $100 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to ensure everyone has access to high-speed internet and the digital skills they need to use that technology and thrive in the digital economy.

Today, we are excited to announce that Puerto Rico is receiving an initial grant of $5.7 million to plan for the deployment and adoption of high-speed internet across the archipelago. $5 million of this funding will help build out the archipelago’s capacity to prepare for our investment and create a plan of action.

And because we know that internet access is about more than just having a connection, the remaining $700,000 will go toward ensuring that everyone in Puerto Rico has the skills, technology, and capacity they need to take full advantage of our digital economy.

This planning money is a down payment on ensuring affordable high-speed internet is available to everyone in Puerto Rico.

To the thousands of minority small businesses and entrepreneurs across the archipelago, we will provide technical assistance for access to capital through the Commerce-Treasury partnership of the State Small Business Credit Initiative and other programs funded by the American Rescue Plan.

We will recognize the Southern Puerto Rico Economic Development District as Puerto Rico’s first federally certified Economic Development District.

We also awarded an American Rescue Plan Good Jobs Challenge grant to UnidosUS to implement multiple workforce training programs in Puerto Rico. One Stop Career Center of Puerto Rico will receive $6.7 million to provide training in the growing construction and aviation sectors, which aligns with the Government of Puerto Rico’s Economic Development Framework, PRopósito, championed by the Department of Economic Development of Puerto Rico.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will provide more than $7.5 million to support coastal and marine research and education, improve safety in the marine and coastal environment, and ensure sustainable fisheries – all in support of Puerto Rico communities.

We will also improve data infrastructure through the development of Puerto Rico specific core statistics and other economic and geographic data products – laying the groundwork for including Puerto Rico in the Census of State and Local Governments for the first time in 35 years, expanding Census Bureau’s Opportunity Project in Puerto Rico, an innovation accelerator that puts technology, data and people first, and re-instituting the Puerto Rico Address Data Working Group, within the Federal Geographic Data Committee to tackle geospatial challenges.

Just this year, for the first time, Puerto Rico’s Gross Domestic Product was released, as well as the first Quarterly Workforce Indicators for Puerto Rico, which provide demographic insights of critical employment trends.

And we will continue to work with Puerto Rico on further developing initiatives and identifying topics for future collaboration, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act, to tackle some of the biggest manufacturing and innovation challenges we face, while positioning Puerto Rico as a hub for R&D and innovation in critical sectors.



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