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Our Point Man Is In The House

House of Representatives Vice President Ferdinand Perez Roman has taken it upon himself to push Gov. Calderon’s economic development legislation and, in the process, has become a tireless advocate for business


October 18, 2001
Copyright © 2001 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The buzz around Puerto Rico’s business sector is that House of Representatives Vice President Ferdinand Perez Roman is the man to go to get things done.

His work in pushing economic development legislation through the House has made him a cornerstone of Gov. Sila Calderon’s economic development program.

But beyond the halls of the Capitol, the rookie legislator is also earning a reputation for being a dedicated advocate for business by interceding before government agencies on behalf of business people who run into bureaucratic red tape or don’t receive the assistance they need from the government.

"Ferdinand Perez is a very special young man with a very bright future," said Gov. Calderon during a CARIBBEAN BUSINESS interview. "He understands economic development and the human importance of it. The only reason economic development is so important, when you really come down to it, is because of the jobs [it creates] and the human faces [behind it].

"In the House, the key person for all issues is its president, Carlos Vizcarrondo, a great colleague to me and someone who has been very cooperative. But Perez Roman has taken a special interest in our economic development measures and developed an expertise in this matter, which is the priority of this government," said the governor.

Perez Roman’s economic development legislative agenda is divided into four areas: the strengthening of Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector; the development of Puerto Rico-based manufacturing companies; the fostering of a local capital market; and the technological transformation of not only Puerto Rico’s Legislature, but the government sector as a whole and its interaction with the private sector.

Perez Roman’s vision of economic development is rooted in history. He has carefully studied the island’s economic transformation since the 1950s.

"I believe the course of Puerto Rico’s economic evolution is divided in three specific and significant phases, each of which brought about strategic economic changes that affected the island drastically. From 1950 to the present, the island’s economic development was led by the economic strategies implemented under five different government administrations.

"From the 1950s to 1968, during Gov. Luis Munoz Marin’s terms in office, the economy grew at an average 6.2% annual rate," said Perez Roman.

He pointed out that during the second phase—between 1968 and 1982, when governors Gov. Luis A. Ferre, Rafael Hernandez Colon, and Carlos Romero Barcelo were in office—economic growth decreased to 2.0%. Some of that was the effect of the oil crisis in the Middle East. During the third phase—starting in 1982, with Gov. Hernandez Colon’s second term through Gov. Pedro Rossello’s two terms in office—average annual growth once more rose to almost 3% (2.8%).

"I truly believe that the consistent growth during the first stage was a result of having the continuity of one administration over a long period of time, with the ability to implement a long-range economic strategy. It seems that subsequent changes in Puerto Rico’s economy have been affected by differing political party strategies, which prevented the continuity found in the 1950s. This is why I believe that we must be consistent in a long-term, long-range economic development plan that is adopted by all future administration’s regardless of their political considerations."

Perez Roman has consistently supported Gov. Sila Calderon’s economic development proposals. He has endorsed her economic plan and introduced several measures that advance the governor’s platform. One example was House Bill #1010, to investigate the procedures required to secure permits by commercial and manufacturing establishments.

Among the House bills endorsed by Perez Roman between January and September 1991, some have sought to stem the company closings and job reductions that the present administration was faced with at the beginning of the year.

"House Bill #433 provides an incentive for the financial industry to provide commercial loans to local entrepreneurs that wanted to purchase and continue operating former Section 936 companies that were about to leave the island. The Puerto Rico Bankers Association, Economic Development & Commerce Department, and Treasury Department (TD) have all endorsed the measure. It is now being analyzed by the TD before being submitted to the Senate for approval," said Perez.

Perez Roman also endorsed House Bill #831, providing a tax incentive to companies hiring Section 936 corporations’ displaced workers. It consisted of a tax break on 25% of employees’ gross salary.

To foster the development and expansion of local companies, the House vice president also favors boosting central government purchases of locally manufactured products. According to him, in 1999 the government of Puerto Rico spent at least $7.4 billion in purchases. Of that amount, $6.1 billion, or 82%, was spent by the central government and the remaining $1.3 billion, or 18%, by municipalities.

"We must turn the government into the principal consumer of Puerto Rico’s goods and services. When I arrived in the Legislature, I found out we don’t even have an inventory of what is produced locally. My objective is to create a data bank that will serve as a guide for government agencies at the time they make purchases," said Perez Roman.

At least four bills are aimed at this economic stimulus. House Bill #1364 provides manufacturing companies a 25% tax incentive on the purchase of products made in Puerto Rico. And Bill #1365 creates a Made in Puerto Rico fund to develop promotional programs and advertising campaigns for Puerto Rican products by assigning the funds to the Commercial Development Administration and the Puerto Rico Products Association (PRPA).

In August, Perez Roman spearheaded, with the help of the PRPA, the first Manufacturing Fair of Puerto Rican Products in the Capitol’s rotunda. "We featured about 50 local manufacturers’ exhibiting their products and services. The objective was to encourage government agency officials to increase their purchases of Puerto Rican products and services."

As a result of this event, Wal-Mart added six new Puerto Rico-made products to its retail stores and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) is holding meetings with the PRPA to study which products can be made locally. A second fair is being planned for the end of this year by Perez Roman’s staff.

House Bills #1421 and #2015 also seek to make the government a principal consumer of Puerto Rican goods and services. Bill #1421 directs the General Services Administration to develop a data bank on products and services made in Puerto Rico so government agencies can have an updated list from where to make preferential purchases, while Bill #2015 will investigate the effectiveness of the government’s Preferential Policy Law for government purchases and how it benefits the island’s goods & services providers.

Meanwhile, House Bill #1433 would foster the development of exports by Puerto Rico-owned companies. The legislator has been influential in holding public hearings aimed at identifying the problems faced by Puerto Rico’s exporters and what measures to take in overcoming them. He is studying a strategic plan for external trade done in 1996 to update its suggestions.

In 2001, $46.9 billion was exported and $22.6 billion was imported by Puerto Rico. But the statistics reveal that it is multinational companies, particularly pharmaceutical companies that export its products to distribution centers in the U.S. or other foreign countries, who are responsible for more than 90% of the island’s exports.

"Even Puerto Rico’s exports to the Dominican Republic, our second trading partner, have decreased through the years. That is why one of the bills I endorse (Bill #1870) will study how to encourage the creation of incentives in the Dominican Republic’s legislature aimed at increasing export opportunities between us."

Perez Roman is also exploring the government’s effectiveness in making payments to its vendors in a timely manner.

"House Bill #2014 studies how efficient the government is when paying its vendors, particularly those companies doing business in the island. Local vendors owed millions of dollars by the government have approached me. We must do whatever it takes to make the process faster."

Another bill of notable importance is House Bill #553, aimed at creating a special fund to provide loans for young entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico. This could encourage new business ideas and job creation. And Perez Roman had previously proposed House Bill #956 to incentivize Real Estate Investment Trusts (Reits) companies, which in turn would encourage the revitalization of municipalities’ urban centers. Gov. Calderon recently passed a similar law.

Last but not least, Perez Roman believes technology should drive Puerto Rico’s economic development. Technology, he says, could give Puerto Rico an edge to compete in international commerce. "I have proposed the creation of a House of Representatives commission on technological development. Right now, all technological development within the government is being handled by the central government.

"I believe that not only the House, but the entire government structure must develop technologically. Under House Bill #2016, we will investigate the procedures used since 1996 by the Industrial Commission to purchase computer equipment. Maybe then we can determine which measures should be taken to ensure that future purchases are consistent with advances in this area."

Two areas crucial for Puerto Rico’s economic development in which Perez Roman intends to become involved are the proposed Port of the Americas transshipment port and the solid waste management crisis confronting the island. He has already asked his staff to study them and provide him with input.

At 34 years, Perez Roman is the youngest House of Representatives vice president ever. Ever since he officially joined the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) in 1988, he has used his leadership abilities to advance within the party.

Between 1988 and 1999, he rose to head the PPD Youth movement and participated in the reorganization of the political party. This would earn Perez Roman a spot in his party’s slate for the 2000 elections, where he garnered more votes than any other PPD candidate running for office.

Through the year, Perez Roman says his message to the citizens he represents has remained constant. "I am convinced that a better quality of life for all Puerto Ricans will only be possible with a healthy, prosperous, and dynamic economy."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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