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Manufacturing Goes Biotech

November 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Just about the time when the prophets of doom had predicted the last manufacturing job would be leaving the island, our front page story today offers you a glimpse of what’s in store for Puerto Rico’s manufacturing industry in the years to come.

After losing nearly 8,000 manufacturing jobs in 2001–mostly in labor-intensive industries such as apparel, electronics, and leather, industries in which we can’t compete with low-labor-cost economies such as the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Far East–today there’s hope for the island’s strong debut in the global biotechnology sciences industry, which promises to create 27,000 new and better-paying jobs over the next five years.

In the last 18 months, just three companies, Eli Lilly, Amgen, and Abbott have announced biotech manufacturing investments worth a combined $1.25 billion that will create 1,090 new jobs.

And there’s more to come. By 2006, Abbott alone will have invested more than $1 billion in Puerto Rico, making its operations on the island the company’s largest manufacturing complex in the world.

But wait. How is this possible? Why, with Internal Revenue Code Section 936 gone and 956 way up in the air, these companies will stay and even expand? How come?

"The decision to build a biotechnology plant on the island was based on the talent, skills, and dedication of the local work force," Abbott Puerto Rico divisional vice president & general manager Harry Rodriguez told us. Good!

It makes sense for these manufacturing companies that for years have built a strategic drug manufacturing presence on the island to leverage on their strengths here to explore the next frontier of biotechnology research and applications. "But," Rodriguez added, "the continuous improvement of our human resource is vital on both technical and professional levels." So there’s work ahead.

That’s why the work the government has been doing for years in putting together a comprehensive science and technology initiative, which integrates private sector companies and universities, is so important and deserves recognition and a lot of attention. Never mind the name. Each administration will call it something else. That is not important.

What is really important is that we seem to have arrived at a consensus that the future of manufacturing in Puerto Rico, and to some extent the rest of our economic development, should not rest in the wrong-headed, anti-competitive protectionism of industries of the past, but in the optimistic embrace and promotion of the industries of the future. That is, the industries that will use the bright talents our universities are turning out and that will pay the kind of salaries and benefits that will keep our best young people from looking for better opportunities outside Puerto Rico.

And that will require that we continue to do an ever better job at and make an even greater investment in education, not just at the university level but at every level.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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