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New Government Portal Seeks to Boost Small Businesses

Entrepreneurs can market their services for free in this business catalog

The Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC, by its Spanish acronym) unveiled last week a new digital platform designed to aid small-business owners from the island’s southwestern region in recovering from the impact of the seismic activity that devastated those communities throughout Jan. 2020.

On the website,http://www.refuerzoenelsur.com, entrepreneurs who employ up to 25 people are able to promote their products, services and schedule free of charge. The portal serves as a type of catalog meant to boost clientele.

“Many people perhaps didn’t go [to southwestern municipalities] because there were earthquakes; many people perhaps were affected… This is a way of marketing businesses for the future beyond the aspect of an emergency. It provides visibility to that business so that they can promote it,” DDEC Secretary Manuel A. Laboy told The Weekly Journal.

According to the secretary, more than 100 businesses have already registered, and he expects that number to continue to grow.

“This is a tool that is easy to use, both for the business owner and the citizen, who will be able to conduct his/her search by town or category, according to their needs. As such, we as a people will be able to support pymes (small- and midsize businesses) by buying from these establishments,” Laboy said.

When asked about the metrics used to measure the portal’s success in fostering a healthier economy, Laboy explained that the DDEC will periodically gather feedback primarily from the entrepreneurs.

However, the secretary clarified that the platform will serve as a temporary measure because it was conceived under the ‘Back to Business’ project for the southwestern region of Puerto Rico. Although the project was meant to assist in aiding those communities after the aforementioned natural disasters, Laboy said that he is considering to move those services into the DDEC’s official website, http://www.ddec.pr.gov, “and perhaps turning that into something more along the lines of a permanent feature.”

The Weekly Journal asked if the DDEC would consider implementing a similar initiative for other zones with underdeveloped economies. “I have had general conversations because we are always seeking to improve our communication strategies on the programs, the initiatives, the projects… so I wouldn’t rule it out,” Laboy answered.

“I believe that as we collect data on how this is performing—the benefits and value to the small businesses—that puts us in a good position to evaluate if we can do it for other regions that are undoubtedly, be it for historical reasons or even after [Hurricane] Maria, a little behind, economically… That is something that we haven’t ruled out because we are always seeking continuous improvement,” he added.

Businesses Receive Financial Compensation

Apart from the website, Laboy informed that his agency awarded a $2,500 cash grant to 1,000 small businesses that filed for this incentive and met the requirements. Officials had originally identified $1 million in economic incentives through Act 60 of 2019 of the Puerto Rico Incentives Code. The goal was to distribute this sum equally amongst 400 small businesses.

“When we did the official call and the opening, which was on Jan. 27, 2020, we were receiving applications from Ponce, Mayagüez, Yauco and San Juan. And, obviously, we let them know that it would be ‘first come, first served; because we knew that we would be receiving more applications than what we could afford because we don’t have money for every small business in Puerto Rico, or at least for the municipalities affected by the emergency,” Laboy said.

That same day, Jan. 27, the agency had received over 1,000 applications. The secretary then met with the board of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco) and requested an additional $1.5 million to assist a greater number of entrepreneurs.

Applicants were required to present documents that certified their bona fide status with the Department of the Treasury and a copy of their municipal patent. They were also required to sign a contract certifying the veracity of the information presented.

In addition to these measures, over the past two weeks, the DDEC has held a series of events called ‘Back to Business: Economic Reinforcement in the South’ in the municipalities of Yauco and Guánica, both of which were impacted by earthquakes earlier this year.

Roughly 700 small- and midsize business owners were oriented on the different technical and financial assistance programs offered through the federal and state governments, the private sector and nonprofit organizations. This was the result of a collaboration with the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Kevane Grant Thornton and Colmena 66.

Meteorologist Ada Monzón also shared advice on how to protect and salvage one’s business in the wake of a natural disaster, while entrepreneur and broadcaster Nicole Chacón discussed how to start a business. The forums included testimonies from fellow small-business owners, such as Érica López, journalist and owner of Radio Yaucana TV, who have been able to carry on despite the adversities that ensued after the seisms.

These events were partially funded by allocations from the U.S. Department of Commerce-Economic Development Administration (USDOC-EDA), whose goal is to support business owners so that they are prepared to continue running their operations after an emergency.

 the website, http://www.refuerzoenelsur.com