SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – After Hurricane Maria devastated vast portions of Puerto Rico, businesses and industry in local communities began coordinating with the government of Puerto Rico, FEMA and other federal agencies to fast-track efforts to revitalize and stimulate commerce on the island. The FEMA-Puerto Rico Business Emergency Operations Center is a critical cog in that effort.
The center brings together government, business and industry leaders from the island's critical infrastructure sectors such as energy, water, transportation and other key industries that need to resume operations in order to re-establish business continuity. Business members of the center represent health products and services, pharmaceuticals, retailers, wholesalers, tourism, food and agriculture, manufacturing, construction, telecommunications and energy.
Center participants met recently at the Sheraton Hotel in Isla Grande to develop plans for further meetings to deal more directly with helping businesses participate in recovery-related contracting opportunities. The group, with local input, coordinates efforts to anticipate and eliminate barriers to getting Puerto Rico back in business.
“Our objective is to help get local businesses up and running,” said Casey Ateah, a FEMA representative for the center. “We want to assess damage to properties, get grocery stores restocked and assist homeowners in their recovery. It’s important that we get things back in place, and local businesses and residents can help us do that.”
Restoring the economy of Puerto Rico is not just a local issue. Of all the pharmaceuticals used on the U.S. mainland, 10 percent are manufactured in Puerto Rico, along with many other life sciences products necessary in healthcare industry. The hospitality and tourism industries also have national and international impacts, with millions visiting the island year-round to conduct business and as tourists to enjoy its climate and attractions.
“The impacts of hurricanes Irma and Maria brought the economy of Puerto Rico to a virtual standstill,” Maj. Juan Villatoro, a contracting officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told those at the meeting. “This center is designed to help the people of Puerto Rico participate in the recovery, and for the local people to be able to share in the federal dollars dedicated to that effort.“
Villatoro advised attendees that USACE’s mission assignments relate to public works and engineering and discussed USACE-related business opportunities associated with temporary power, debris removal, temporary roofing and restoration of the island’s power grid.
He explained that contracts to provide immediate disaster response are awarded years in advance in order to hasten the ability to get people and supplies to the scene more quickly and that longer-term recovery contracts are more suited to local business participation.
“Requirements change,” Villatoro said, “but we are guided by the Stafford Act, which directs us to use local goods and services, when they are capable of performing, first. And our prime contractors are here to serve a need in case of compelling urgency and to serve as a bridge for follow-on contracts in compliance with the Stafford Act.”