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Puerto Rico’s Ambassador To Texas

Nick Rivera covers four states out of Houston, addressing a varied 10-point agenda


January 13, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The satellite office of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) in Houston covers Texas and the three adjacent states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico with senior commercial officer Nick Rivera alone at the helm.

The Houston office, which was previously in San Antonio, is one of a dozen operated by the PRFAA stateside, and among those with the largest area of responsibility. The office promotes everything to do with Puerto Rico, including investment promotions, trade, tourism, and Rums of Puerto Rico.

"PRFAA’s role in this region is to advance the well-being of Puerto Ricans, both on the island and on the [U.S.] mainland, and I see my role as a facilitator who promotes Puerto Rico in whatever way I can," Rivera said, conceding he is a one-man operation, "somewhat handicapped by a lack of support personnel and an inadequate budget."

Outgoing PRFAA head María Carmen Aponte, who was in San Juan recently for the inauguration of Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, said "Rivera is doing a great job for Puerto Rico in Texas, as well as in the bordering states he covers." Nominated to succeed Aponte is Eduardo Bhatia, former Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for mayor of San Juan.

Rivera pointed out that more than 110,000 Puerto Ricans now live in Texas, and the number is continuously growing which, in itself, is proof the state is an attractive destination, affording them plenty of opportunity."

There are a number of factors that attract Puerto Ricans to Texas, including better education, military service, and professional and business opportunities. "In Texas, there are 26 Puerto Rican community-based organizations, and most of them have a civic, social or cultural character," Rivera said.

"There are a couple of professional associations like the Puerto Rico Medical Association in El Paso which, along with Killeen and San Antonio, have developed larger Puerto Rican communities because they are near military bases, where Puerto Ricans initially served and became familiar with the area."

Rivera first worked in Houston with Goya, when the food processor and distributor opened its first office in Texas.

Puerto Rico businesspeople organizing

Acknowledging the overwhelming majority of Hispanics in Texas are of Mexican descent, Rivera said Puerto Rican businesspeople in the Houston area, for example, have organized, and operate in cooperation with the much larger Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Houston. The group has signed an agreement with the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, and is also working to expand its relations with both the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association (PRMA), and the island’s United Retailers Association.

"This interaction is being fueled by the fact that four of the 20 Texas firms doing business with Puerto Rico are based in Houston," Rivera said, pointing to Continental Airlines, Phillips, Shell (with its connection to Humacao), and Cemex. He also noted the Dallas-Fort Worth area accounts for the majority of the other Texas-based firms operating in Puerto Rico, led by AMR Corp. and Hewlett-Packard.

Rivera described Continental Airlines as an important link between Houston and Puerto Rico because of its daily Sunday through Friday flight, and two flights on Saturdays. "Its passenger volume is so high and consistent that I understand Continental is planning to introduce a second daily flight to San Juan shortly, subject to final government approval," he said.

Travel industry sources identify a number of factors for Continental’s success on the route, among them the increasing attractiveness of vacationing in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean, the growing popularity of Caribbean cruises out of San Juan, and the consistent travel of Puerto Ricans to and from Texas.

"The increasing popularity of Puerto Rico as a tourism destination in Texas is the reason why the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. has identified it as the fourth-largest source of tourists to the island, and one of the fastest-growing," Rivera said. The number of Texas residents vacationing in Puerto Rico in 2004 reached 60,100, a 7% increase compared to the 50,990 that traveled to the island in 2003, according to PRTC figures.

Promoting Puerto Rico tourism is another facet of his varied agenda. "Texas, without the PRTC spending any money [to promote the island as a tourism destination] in Texas, has emerged as the state with the fourth-largest number of tourists visiting Puerto Rico, after New York, Florida, and New Jersey."

Pointing to Houston as the energy capital of the U.S., Rivera said the Lone Star state hasn’t been targeted by his office as a potential sector for development because of inadequate personnel, and budgetary considerations. "There is plenty of room for growth in the economic relationship between Houston and Puerto Rico, and I can assure you the Port of Houston is working to expand its relationship with the island," he said.

Rivera said Texas now boasts it is the largest port in the U.S., tonnagewise. Houston’s strategy is to reposition itself as the "Gateway to the West," just as Miami calls itself the "Gateway to the Americas."

Rivera’s office was one of two stateside that weren’t involved in the voter registration drive led by former Gov. Sila Calderón, Rivera said. The other was California.

Bridge building and getting people to across

"I see the role of a PRFAA satellite office as that of bridge builder, and attracting people to cross it," Rivera said. "We have to create more interaction and stimulate all kinds of cultural exchanges."

Rivera, son of veteran Pete Rivera of American Airlines, was recently in San Juan to visit his family and attend the governor’s inauguration.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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