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Calderon Scores Twice, Experience Pays

August 16, 2001
Copyright © 2001 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Calderon Scores Twice

Gov. Calderon made two correct decisions last week. The first was to leave the management of the Puerto Rico Water and Sewer Authority (Prasa) in private hands. The second was to dismiss the Senate proposal of Spanish only legislation.

With the term of the present management contract with the Water Co. about to expire, the administration decided to extend it for six months and engage it and other companies in a competitive bidding process for a 10-year management contract thereafter.

The short-term decision to extend the contract for six months was borne out of necessity. There’s no way the government could have taken over the management of Prasa overnight without causing major disruptions in service.

The decision to retain a private management model for the water utility for the next decade is also right on point. Water service in Puerto Rico may still be woefully deficient. But many people choose to forget how much worse it was eight years ago. In the meantime, much needed investments in infrastructure have been made which will ensure even better service in the years to come.

Calderon was also right in dismissing the much touted report by the Senate Education, Science & Culture Committee Chairwoman Margarita Ostolaza and Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora recommending, among other things, legislation to make Spanish Puerto Rico’s only official language. The Governor said she believes in "a bilingual Puerto Rico, which masters both Spanish and English" and that the priorities of her administration were, among others, job creation and economic development, not dealing with this language issue.


Experience Pays

New Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco) Executive Director William Riefkohl has been around the manufacturing industry so long that he knows the menu inside out.

He hasn’t held the top job before but he knows what works and what doesn’t. From the vantage point of the several jobs he has held at Pridco (formerly Fomento) and as executive vice president of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, Riefkohl has seen many a former Fomento administrator go at one of the most challenging and important tasks in the government’s economic development agenda.

In our front page story this week, Riefkohl details his plan to strengthen manufacturing in Puerto Rico.

The strategies in Riefkohl’s plan are not new. From helping manufacturers generate export sales as a way to increase local manufacturing production, to enticing large national retail stores to buy locally, to reconfiguring Pridco buildings into smaller modules to house local manufacturing start-ups, they all have been tried before by past Fomento administrators to varying degrees of success. In that sense, Riefkohl’s plan marks a return to the basics of manufacturing promotion.

Riefkohl is right in increasing Pridco’s efforts to help the local manufacturer. Not that he should not work hard to attract stateside and foreign manufacturing companies. But all too often, past Fomento administrators have concentrated all their effort in assisting outside companies to the detriment of the local manufacturer. In a sense, the local companies are the backbone of Puerto Rico’s manufacturing industry. They are the ones who have to make a go of it in good times, and in bad. In times of hardship, they cannot just pick up their bags and leave or consolidate operations at some foreign low-wage location, or even at a stateside plant with excess, unused capacity.

The history of our manufacturing promotion program shows that the industry is stronger and healthier when local manufacturers are helped along and allowed to thrive. Riefkohl appears intent in achieving just that. We wish him good luck.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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