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Technology Transfer Is A Key To Puerto Rico’s Future

New PRMA president wants the organization to become the propeller of the island’s economic development


September 28, 2000
Copyright © 2000 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Within the year, the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association (PRMA) hopes to establish the island’s first technology transfer center as part of its efforts to change the local economy from an information-based one to a knowledge-based economy.

In a knowledge-based economy, extensive research and development creates new products and devises new processes to manufacturing. Currently, Puerto Rico’s plants are given specific instructions from headquarters for the manufacturing each product. Some improvements are made locally, but nothing fundamental. Very little research and development (R&D) is done by local plants.

Newly elected PRMA President Lucy Crespo is convinced of the need for change. "Singapore has been very successful in starting new businesses as a result of its technology transfer efforts. Puerto Rico has very little intellectual property, but we could use the federal government’s technology which is available to the public." Because of this conviction, she is willing to have PRMA establish and run the center which could be operational within a year. She added that funding would come from the government’s R&D initiative. At next month’s PRMA strategic session, Crespo will emphasize the need for such a center, under the auspices of PRMA, if need be.

"We want PRMA to be, within the private sector, the propeller of the island’s economic development. Our board has agreed on this." As PRMA president, Crespo also wants to be involved and have a close working relationship with the government.

She is fond of repeating that we must find areas that unite us, and not dwell on what distances us from each other. "We must also attract to Puerto Rico everyone that has our same goals."

Crespo is keenly aware of the island’s need to be competitive. She envisions achieving this through improvements in infrastructure, incentives, and education. Crespo proposes that industrial missions should visit those countries that excel in these areas "to learn some of their practices and replicate them here…[We] must become very aware of the importance of benchmarking, of comparing ourselves with countries that are first in their class."

Crespo sees the future of Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector resulting from R&D. "Puerto Rico has so much talent, both in the universities and in the industrial sector, that we can make the transformation from an information to a knowledge-based economy."

That is why she is so enthusiastic about Hewlett Packard Puerto Rico’s Technology Center–her own plant. The technology center–the first of its kind on the island–represents a company investment of $50 million and an additional $47 million investment by Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company’s (Pridco) through its R&D initiative. Expected to be ready in November, the center will initially occupy 18,000 square feet, as part of the on-going building expansion.

She wants other local multi-national subsidiaries to follow suit and start their own R&D activity. HP has also pledged support for the government’s R&D initiative, specifically by mentoring manufacturing and IT projects.

The results-oriented Crespo anticipates HP’s center working at full capacity within two years. That will mean hiring 75 scientists, engineers, and information technology (IT) specialists. Some could be found among HP’s 1,800 full time employees at its 68 acre Aguadilla site, others could be hired wherever the particular expertise is available. There are already four University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez professors working part time at HP as part of a strategic alliance with that campus.

In two years, software produced by the HP technology center will be ready to be marketed to other companies. What exactly will HP’s technology center be creating? It will design and develop products and processes that will enable incremental revenue, and develop products to take advantage of opportunity markets and niches. For example, HP will further develop its imaging and printing applications using ink-jet technology. It will also create new memory product technology. "Our goal is that, in three-to-four years, the center will be self funded with the sale of leading edge technology created there," Crespo said.

Crespo is enthusiastic about the many possibilities that a good working relationship with the government can bring. She is especially interested in collaborating in plant promotions.

She believes that testimonials from the heads of the local plants, asking their stateside bosses to put in a good word for Puerto Rico, would impress businesspersons considering a possible manufacturing site on the island.

She envisions PRMA board members and other successful members traveling whenever and wherever necessary to promote a plant from their own sector. Personally, she’d be very happy to help attract more electronic plants.

In her opinion, one important goal for the manufacturing sector should be securing the permanence of Section 30A (a tax credit for wages in the U.S. Internal Revenue Code) "which is critical to many pharmaceuticals and apparel plants." Another should be lobbying the Commonwealth government for the extension of local tax credits to all industries in the island–not just to those making new investments and job expansions.

Like all island manufacturers, Crespo considers the lowering of the cost of power a must, "if not, many of us will have to consider co-generation."

Anyone who knows her is not surprised that Crespo is the first elected woman president of PRMA. She was also the first woman general manager of Hewlett-Packard. Another woman, Iris Santos, is general manager of a second HP operation in Aguadilla.

Women comprise 34% of the management of the Aguadilla plant; more than 40% of the systems information specialists; and more than 30% of the engineers.

In addition to her job as general manager for servers product operations for Latin America, Crespo will supervise the market and supply chain group for the region. This will mean that she will increase her travels, which already take up half of her time.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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