Join us for the Puerto Rico Investing Mastermind with Adam Greenfader of AG&T from July 25th – July 28 in Condado, San Juan to explore the rich investing opportunities in this tropical US Territory, Puerto Rico.
An island that is offering amazing tax incentives to investors willing to catch the vision of this tropical island.
What you will learn:
The island empowers entrepreneurs with a spectrum of assets, including smart tax incentives, a highly skilled bilingual workforce, and U.S. legal & financial frameworks.
98% of Puerto Rico is opportunity zones, including many of its beach properties
Find out who is migrating to the island and why!
Real estate investing is one of the greatest vehicles to build wealth, but it doesn’t make sense in every market. Some locations provide incredible returns, while others make it almost impossible to make a profit. Click here for more information.
The Symposium was kicked-off by Scott McLaren, President ULI SE Florida / Caribbean. Scott spoke about the longstanding relationship and collaboration between ULI and the Puerto Rico Builders Association. He highlighted the work on the ULI National Advisory Services Panel on social, economic, and physical resilience in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. https://seflorida.uli.org/toa-baja-puerto-rico-panel/
Scott Maclaren finished his remarks by recognizing Vanessa de Mari, the new President of the Puerto Rico Builders Association and the first women president in the organization’s 70 year history. The Symposium was dedicated to this historic accomplishment. In attendance were some of Puerto Rico’s top government leaders. This included the Honorable Pedro Pierluisi, Governor of Puerto Rico, Manuel Laboy, COR3 Executive Director, Maretzie Diaz, Deputy Director PR Housing Department CDBG-DR, Natalia I. Zequeira, Commissioner of Financial Institutions, and in attendance, the Secretary of Housing of Puerto Rico, William Rodríguez Rodríguez. The keynote address by the Honorable Pedro Pierluisi, Governor of Puerto Rico’s highlighted the island’s economic accomplishments, the end of Puerto Rico’s population exodus, and the conclusion of the bankruptcy which was officially announced the day of the Symposium.
In the private sector, Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz, CEO, Alvarez-Diaz & Villalon discussed some of progress of the island’s rebuilding after the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. The reconstruction of the island was a constant theme throughout the day with specific examples of over 900 started projects.
The first panel, “Why Puerto Rico: Stories of Success, was a testament to the resiliency of the development community. Moderated by Andrew Carlson, SVP Country Manager, of JLL the discussion highlighted the historic growth of the island’s hospitality sector with the construction and/or renovation of over 3,000 new room keys from El Conquistador, Grand Reserve (formerly known as Coco Beach), Sheraton, AC , and many others. The panel included Federico Sanchez, President & CEO, Interlink Group.
Dan Kodsi, CEO, Royal Palm Companies, Rafael E. Rojo, President & CEO, VRM Companies. Also in attendance was Brad Dean, CEO, Discover Puerto Rico who highlighted the island’s impressive tourism growth (ADR and occupancy rates) during the Covid 19 pandemic and new expansion of tourism throughout all U.S. feeder markets.
As Puerto Rico seeks to build back its tourism and other industries, the financial sector will invariably play a major role. One of the goals of the Puerto Rico Symposium was to facilitate the conversation of growth in both traditional banking as well as new Fintech, IFEs, and other debt/equity players. Natalia I. Zequeira, Commissioner of Financial Institutions, explained the ease of regulations and process for new financial institutions as Puerto Rico shares many of the same regulations of the U.S. states on the mainland. Ms. Zequeira also mentioned that International Financial Entities (IFE) can now participate in special opportunity projects.
Michael McDonnell, Executive Vice President, First Bank, that recently re-opened its construction division, was bullish on the island’s economic prospects and announced that the Puerto Rico will achieve positive economic growth (GDP) this year– something it has not done in over a decade. Banesco USA announced the U.S. Department of the Treasury, will invest more than $8.7 billion through ECIP in institutions across the country – Banesco USA is the only bank recipient located in Florida or Puerto Rico.
Over the last few years, we have all hear about the 80 billion dollars of relief aid that has been allocated to Puerto Rico and is coming. In the “Myth versus Reality panel: Federal Funding Opportunities on The Island,” moderator Ella Woger Nieves of Invest Puerto Rico helped lift-up the proverbial transparency veil. Manuel Laboy, the COR3 Executive Director spoke with detailed facts of the funding by agency with FEMA authorizing 5 billion for temporary work, 21 Billion for 9,000 permanent projects and 800 that are currently under construction today. He also discussed the next wave of over 900 projects that are currently under engineering and design. Much of this work will be channeled through CDBG-DR and the PR Housing Department. Maretzie Diaz, the Deputy Director PR Housing Department, explained the process for companies wanting to participate in the island’s rebuilding of housing and infrastructure. Mahdu Beriwal, Owner/founder of EIM provided first-hand knowledge of the rebuilding work in Puerto Rico.
Keynote Speaker Pamela Pautenade, Ex. Deputy Secretary of HUD, was also on hand to share her experiences about the collaboration with the Puerto Rico Builders Association during the 2017 hurricanes crisis. In a moving conversation with Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz, Mrs. Pautenade explained the dedication of the island’s public and private sectors and dispelled any rumors about misuse of relief funds.
Puerto Rico, like much of the Caribbean is in the process of bouncing back from the Covid 19 pandemic. Adam Greenfader, who chairs the ULI Caribbean Council had a high level sit down conversation with keynote Speaker Andrew Farkas, CEO Island Capital Group. The conversation was focused on social equity and specifically what role the financial sector has in supporting the region with a particular focus on sustainability, ESG, and helping economic migrants return back to their island homes.
In the last few years Puerto Rico has become known as blockchain capital of the world. While thousands of tech savvy individuals have moved to the island to take advantage of federal tax incentives they have inadvertently created a new economic driver for the Puerto Rico.
In our “Fintech & Financial Innovation panel in Puerto Rico, Moderator Nathan Whigham, Founder & President, EN Capital discussed the growth of this huge industry. Rodrick Miller, CEO, Invest Puerto Rico, explained what his group is doing to change the paradigm in Puerto Rico from selling tax incentives to focusing on the island’s quality of labor, education system, and proficiency in bio science and other innovations. Stephen Inglis, CEO, Importal explained his new portal to monetize tax credits and Yael Tamar, CEO & Co-founder, SolidBlock explained how her company is integrating real estate and blockchain.
After a marathon day of conversation it was amazing to see the room still full for our last panel “Growth Industries and Tax Incentives” moderated by Carla Campos and an all-star team including Jorge Ruiz Montilla, McConnel Valdez, Francisco Luis, of Kevane Grant Thornton and Rogelio “Roy” Carrasquillo, of the Carrasquillo Law Group. In this panel, specific programs like the Tourism Tax Incentive were explained in detail and there was robust conversation regarding how these incentives have created new jobs in manufacturing, life sciences, construction, and agro-science.
On behalf of all of us at the Puerto Rico Builders Association and The Urban Land Institute SE Florida/ Caribbean, thank you to all of the people and sponsors that made The Puerto Rico Symposium possible. We are all hopeful that together both the public and private sector can create long lasting sustainable economic growth.
For more information about investing in Puerto Rico visit our web site or contact us.
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Last week The Puerto Rico Builders Association held its 70th year conference in San Juan Puerto Rico. The historic event was inaugurated with a conversation on Financing the Next Great Economic Construction Boom. The panel included Michael McDonald, Executive Vice President and Group Director at Firstbank, Luis Alemañy President and CEO at the Economic Development Bank of Puerto Rico, and Eric Delgado Business Banking Relationship Manager at Acrecent Financial Corporation and Adam Greenfader, Managing Partner at AG&T.
It was clear from the conference panelists, that after more than fifteen years of stagnate growth, Puerto Rico appears ready to build back better. Billions of dollars of FEMA and CDBG-DR funds are being allocated in what will be the largest government funding program in US history. While much of the Federal funds will be used to subsidize projects, the group was in agreement that there is a huge need for private investment and capital to bridge the financing gapMichael McDonald, Executive Vice President and Group Director at Firstbank, made the historic announcement that the bank is opening up its construction division. Several members from the newly formed team were present in the packed room including Carlos Navarro and Mei Li Tsai Rivera. “There is no better indicator of an economy that is ready to grow that when a bank reopens its construction division”, quoted Alfredo Martínez-Álvarez, Jr., Chairman of the Puerto Rico Builders Association.
Equally promising, Luis Alemañy President and CEO at the Economic Development Bank of Puerto Rico, was asked about the much awaited CDBG-DR funding. Mr. Alemañy explained that the Economic Development Bank of Puerto Rico has already started allocating over $225 Million dollars to small entrepreneurs. The group was especially receptive to the fact that the grants are being disbursed in $50,000 tranches and does not require repayment.
Since 2008, Puerto Rico has gone from twelve financial institutions to less than four. Eric Delgado Business Banking Relationship Manager at Acrecent Financial Corporation, sees a new role for niche lenders filling that gap in Puerto Rico. He specifically discussed how Acrecent can play a role in funding new construction projects. “We are able to get to funding much faster than traditional banks and also have the capacity for higher loan to coast ratios. Both Firstbank and Acrecent mentioned that capital is seeking anywhere from 25%-35% of project equity.
“As Puerto Rico gets ready to build thousands of much needed homes, critical infrastructure and other key projects, it will be up to both private and public institutions to step up and provide the much needed capital and leadership”, quoted Adam Greenfader of AG&T. All of the panelist were in agreement that the island in the next few years is ready for strong growth. They specifically mentioned that in addition to the more than 8 billion dollars of Federal Grants, Puerto Rico has one of the most robust tax incentives and credit programs in the world. The hospitality incentive with a 40% tax credit was specifically highlighted as a very strong component of any capital stack today.
Helping to plan a better future for the island, The Puerto Rico Builders Association will be holding its annual conference on September 20 and 21, 2022. Speaking and sponsorship opportunities are available and you may contact AG&T at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AG&T is a real estate development and consulting company founded in 1998 with headquarters in Miami, Florida. Our track record spans over 55 real estate development projects in Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and various other Caribbean islands.
Adam Greenfader, Managing partner of AG&T (7 minute video) speaks on new opportunities in Puerto Rico. Learning this video about the the island’s history and how you can learn from the past to generate real value and long term economic growth. The video includes new information about tax incentives, the tourism tax incentive, Act 20/22, and other tax credits for real estate development. Contact us for more information and to learn about Why Puerto Rico Now
On Tuesday, March 16, 2021 at 10:30am, we held the ULI State of the Caribbean Market Place webinar. The event boasted some of the top industry leaders in finance, brokerage, and development on what’s happening in the Caribbean hotel market. Speakers included Juan Corvinas Solans, Rogerio Basso, Alexandra Lalos, and Christian Charre, and Brad Dean. Moderated by Adam Greenfader.
It had been almost 12 months since my last visit to Puerto Rico. Thanks to the COVID lockdown expectations were low. The last time I visited, more than 2 years after hurricanes Irma and Maria, the devastation was still overwhelming. Streets were lined with garbage, electrical lines in disrepair, and thousands of homes had roofs covered in blue tarps. This combined with more than ten years of economic recession made has made Puerto Rico extremely pessimistic. As I landed in Luis Munoz Marin Airport, I was thinking, “Would the ensuing earthquakes and COVID pandemic ravage the economy even more…”
I travelled the entire island from coast to coast – 100 x 35 miles, in a two week period. I drove from San Juan to Aguadilla, Mayaguez, Ponce, Humacao, Fajardo, and Ocean Park. The roads were in good condition, the street lights working, and many buildings newly painted. Notwithstanding the COVID crisis, the economy was bustling. Most palpable was the positive attitude and feeling of the people. I spoke with many colleagues and friends and was told that much of the hurricane insurance had circulated through the economy. The 8-12 billion in Federal relief from CDBG-DR is expected by early 2021. Homemade signs seeking construction workers can be seen throughout the island that read, “Se Solicita Carpinteros y Albanilles”.
While the tourists were clearly absent ‘en mass’, a handful of new boutique hotels, especially in San Juan, have been recently delivered between 2019-2020. Much of this new hotel activity is due in part to the Tourism Tax Incentive. The tax incentive provides up to 40% of the total project’s cost back to sponsors…incredibly, some of it can be used for funding as part of the initial capital stack. While this is not common anywhere in the world, Puerto Rico’s is not a typical Caribbean destination. The total economic activity (GDP) in Puerto Rico is less than 7% for all tourism related activities. This includes, hotels, trades, conventions, excursions, etc.. This is an astonishing low number for an island that is surrounded by warm water, beautiful beaches, and lush landscapes. Read more about why Puerto Rico is like this at: https://www.agandt.com/wordpress/contact-why-puerto-rico-now/
These tax incentives combined with a team of dedicated individuals in the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) – Discover Puerto Rico and other Public Private Partnerships (Invest Puerto Rico) is helping to make Puerto Rico a thriving tourism destination. The island currently boats some of the top hotels in the Caribbean with ADR’s over $1,500 per night. Much of this demand is generated by the Act 20/22 (now Act 60). For the last five years, hundreds of high net worth US individuals have moved to Puerto Rico to take advantage of zero Federal capital gains. Act 60 has resulted in over 500 families and hundreds of new business moving to Puerto Rico. There seems to be no end in sight for these new Americans living in Puerto Rico.
This week Puerto Rico also inaugurated for the first time in over 20 years, the same political party. The PNP or US Statehood party won the election with a mandate for political stability, reduced corruption, and closer ties with the United States. While the island’s economic crisis is far from over, the COVID pandemic has put Puerto Rico back in the spotlight for its manufacturing proficiency. The island of Puerto Rico is one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical destinations – producing more than the top 5 US States combined. As thousands of jobs come back to the USA-Puerto Rico, invariably many will end up where the cost of labor is 15% less expensive, and there is a 60 year culture of robust manufacturing.
So is this the year for Puerto Rico? Strong yes if you are involved with affordable housing, luxury resorts, alternative energy and critical manufacturing.
While we at AG&T do not have the proverbial ‘crystal ball’ on the island’s long term economic growth, things feel like they are on the right track and we will have more clarity with the resolution to the island’s bond crisis, the electrical authority privatization (AEE), and the completion of the responsibilities of The Fiscal Oversight and Managemnt Board for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico was already struggling from decades of fiscal mismanagement and had just declared bankruptcy over its $123B debt when it was hit by two hurricanes in September 2017 — only to run into a botched disaster response. The way some see it, though, rock bottom is behind Puerto Rico, and the island is in the early stages of an upswing. “Puerto Rico is setting an incredible pace for economic recovery,” said Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, a destination marketing organization that promotes the commonwealth. “Airport arrivals are exceeding pre-Hurricane Maria levels, as are lodging revenues. Given the quick rebound, reinvestment in hotel product and tremendous potential for the island’s tourism industry, this is Puerto Rico’s time. From an investor’s perspective, there’s never been a better time to invest in the island’s tourism industry.”
Buildings and infrastructure are still being repaired and upgraded, and the government has instituted a full slate of tax incentives to lure investors, said AG&T Managing Partner Adam Greenfader, who advises clients from his base in Miami. “You can still acquire assets for 50 cents on the dollar,” he said. “Beachfront land in Puerto Rico today can still be acquired at $30K an acre.” Dean and Greenfader will be panelists at Bisnow’s Caribbean Hospitality & Tourism Summit Aug. 1. Puerto Rico’s economic spiral goes back decades. After World War II, it gave big tax breaks to manufacturers, and to cover for revenue shortfalls, issued more bonds than it could repay. In turn, it implemented austerity measures that did little except drive the population away. Its problems were exacerbated by that fact that it has no voting power in Congress.
Greenfader outlined some key developments toward a turnaround. Puerto Rico’s cash-strapped government has tried to lure investors with laws like Acts 20 and 22, passed in 2012 and designed so that people who move to the island pay little or no federal income tax, even on passive investments. Greenfader said this has attracted 250 to 500 families per year, including big names such as billionaire John Paulson. Other incentives include one that lets people with tourism-related projects get back 40% or 50% of their acquisition costs.
Puerto Rico’s massive government debt is currently being sorted out by a federal oversight board. “The major bonds, COFINA and GO, have been renegotiated and the bondholders have been put into payment plans,” Greenfader said. Since the 2017 hurricanes, federal disaster aid — including $1.4B authorized in June — has trickled in. Hotels damaged in the storms were forced to remodel or rebuild and are now offering better products at higher rates. Many are incorporating solar and microgrids to be resilient for the future. The storms raised the profile of Puerto Rico — one study found that prior to them hitting, about half of Americans hadn’t known the commonwealth was part of the U.S. Airport arrivals and tourism revenue have already set records this year. On top of this, Puerto Rico is the beneficiary of community development block grant funding, and 97% of the entire commonwealth — much of it beachfront — has been designated a qualified opportunity zone. “Puerto Rico never had a 1031 exchange, so from a tax perspective, it’s the first time it’s getting capital gains money,” Greenfader said.
Lifeafar Investments Chief Financial Officer Cole Shephard, who will also be a panelist at the Bisnow event, said his Colombia-based company is already taking advantage of Puerto Rico’s investment climate, raising $16M in an opportunity fund to reposition a 61-room hotel. Shephard said Lifeafar, which started by offering real estate services to expats in Medellín, was drawn by the tax incentives and that the opportunity zone designation was a bonus. He is now doing due diligence on additional properties. “I see the sophisticated money chasing metro San Juan,” he said, suggesting that there is a lot of opportunity for small to mid-market projects outside of the city. Not everything in Puerto Rico is rosy.
As the government has scrambled to generate revenue, sales tax was raised to 11.5%, pensions have been cut, college tuition increased and some 300 public schools closed. Critics have complained that wealthy investors have been protected while ordinary Puerto Ricans suffer. “The locals have had to carry the brunt of these austerity measures,” Greenfader acknowledged. “I’d understand completely, if I see a guy who’s a hedge fund manager with $500M earnings pay hardly any taxes, versus the regular guy paying 35% taxes who’s a salaried worker at Bacardi,” Shepherd said. But Shepherd added that conversations with Puerto Rican officials convinced him they have carefully calculated the tradeoff and found that luring private investment now will help island residents long-term, even though it may take years for the effects to be obvious.
Greenfader suggested that boosting tourism is a winning solution for both investors and residents. Because Puerto Rico since the Kennedy era has been focused on manufacturing, its tourism industry was relatively neglected. The industry now accounts for less than 7% of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product. In other Caribbean islands, that number is typically between 30% and 80%. Dean’s destination marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico, was established last year to actively promote tourism. Bisnow’s Aug. 1 Caribbean Hospitality & Tourism Summit will also include Puerto Rico Tourism Co. Executive Director Carla Campos, Hilton VP for Development Juan Corvinos Solans, Puerto Rico Builders Association President Ing. Emilio Colón Zavala and more.
Strong turnout at the first 2019 ULI Caribbean Roundtable Panel.
Presentations by Emilio Colon Zavala, President of the Builders Association of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Alvarez Diaz of AD&V, Robbie Karver of EY and chaired by Adam Greenfader of AG&T. Big Shout out to Julie Medley, Mallory Baker, Max Helden and the whole ULI Southeast Florida team for putting this amazing event together.
Some of the biggest takeaways:
Growth is forecasted at a 8.1% with growing airlifts. In spite of the tumultuous 2017 hurricane season, the occupancy rates were around 65% in 2018 and should peak back up to 70% across the region in 2019.
Access, Access, and Access continues to be the principal driver for hospitality.
“The Caribbean region today is seen as a maturing destinations with more diversified land offerings”, quoted Robbie Karver.
Looming recession talks in US was downplayed for the Caribbean region as the lack of a significant of new supply (compared to 2008) should help bolster the region.
Caution was noted about citizenship programs (CIP) for several Caribbean governments not necessarily generating revenues as expected.
Smart money is looking at Puerto Rico with lots of incentives for tourism development, tax benefits for those wanting to move/start business on the island (law 20/22), and billions of dollars of recently approved US Federal grants. 95% of Puerto Rico is an Opportunity Zone.
Institutional capital seeking better rates than on the US mainland although Caribbean hospitality lending is ‘cautiously optimistic’ with focus on shorter ramp up period of less than three (3) years.
There is strong demand for world class Marinas and for Big-Big yachts.
Resiliency is getting into new developments and is having very little negative effect on the IRR.
The roundtable conversation highlighted a series of events that will be taking place in 2019 (email email@example.com for a full schedule).
MAY 2, ULI MEMBER APPRECIATION SOCIAL & POST TOA BAJA PANEL UPDATE (Puerto Rico).
AUG 1 CARIBBEAN HOSPITALITY SUMMIT – PR BUILDERS (Miami)
OCT 23-25 ULI Mexico – Latin America Conference (Cancun)
NOV 14 PUERTO RICO BUILDERS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE (Puerto Rico)
ULI will be highlighting development projects of excellence at its Annual Vision Awards Event which will be held on September 5that the JW Marriott Marquis. If anyone would like to submit a Caribbean project please contact Mallory.Barker@uli.org
For the next roundtable the following items were discussed as potential areas of interest:
To discuss a list of hospitality projects that are getting funded in the Caribbean Region, share details on projects and the funding
Bahamar project and case study
Sources of hotel financing and the interplay of mezzanine financing
The synergy of luxury cruise ships and private islands
The business of Cannabis in the Caribbean
The effect of Hurricanes on hotel supply and competition
Sargassum seaweed and its adverse effects on the region
This first meeting was open to ULI members and guests. Subsequent roundtables will require membership for participation. Please email Max.Helden@uli.orgif you need details on joining.
By Deirdra Funcheon as Published in Bisnow South Florida
Puerto Rico has been desperate for aid that has been too slow and insufficient following hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. But a few on the island say the attention followed might ultimately be a net positive for the commonwealth. “The bottom line is that Puerto Rico in the next two to three years is expected to see strong growth — 3 to 3.5% of GDP,” said Adam Greenfader, principal of Miami-based AG&T Development and Advisory Services. “It hasn’t had growth in 12 years. A depression is defined as negative economic growth for three quarters, so for all intents and purposes, Puerto Rico has been in a depression for 12 years.”
Greenfader married into a family that facilitates Section 8 housing throughout Puerto Rico. He then became a developer there himself. Currently, he serves as the liaison to the Puerto Rico Builders’ Association and the chair of the Urban Land Institute’s Caribbean Council. Greenfader points out that while last summer’s hurricanes devastated the commonwealth, jobs had already been scarce for more than a decade as the government faced a crippling debt crisis, owing $123B and declaring bankruptcy last spring. Though an estimated 150,000 Puerto Ricans fled to the U.S. mainland after the hurricanes, between 60,000 and 70,000 residents had already been leaving each year of the crisis. Puerto Rico’s current population is about 3.5 million, down from a peak of about 4 million, Greenfader said.
Turnaround efforts began years ago. Reforms enacted in 2012 enticed businesses and high net worth individuals to relocate to Puerto Rico by taxing corporate profits at a flat 4% and eliminating taxes on dividends, interest and capital gains for anyone who resided at least half the year in Puerto Rico. For anyone selling a company or large amounts of stock, these measures could result in saving millions of dollars on taxes. Famously, Putnam Bridge Funding CEO Nicholas Prouty invested more than $100M and relocated his family. Billionaire John Paulson bought several hotels. Michael E. Tennenbaum founded Caribbean Capital & Consultancy Corp. Goldman Sachs and various hedge funds moved in and bought distressed mortgages for pennies on the dollar.
Greenfader said that about 1000 high net worth individuals moved to the island, and about 200 are coming each year. Cottage industries sprung up to cater to these ultra-wealthy. Then last year’s hurricanes blew through, knocking out power and killing 64 people directly and 4,645 in total, according to Harvard University. Though the U.S. government responded painfully slowly, $18B in aid has been approved from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and billions more are expected, Greenfader said.
Recovery is slow, but happening. Tesla built a solar array to power a children’s hospital. Doctors are being offered tax incentives to stay in Puerto Rico. Private insurance companies have started to pay claims, so 60% of hotels are now operational, Greenfader said. He believes that when the economy improves, exiles will move back.
Publicity around the hurricanes certainly brought attention to the commonwealth. Immediately after the hurricanes, only about half of Americans knew that Puerto Rico was part of the United States; that number has since risen to 76%. Following the disaster, dozens of cryptocurrency entrepreneurs relocated to San Juan to buy hundreds of thousands of acres of land, take advantage of the tax structure and set up a “crypto utopia.” Greenfader suggested there is more opportunity for economic recovery: Puerto Rico’s tourism industry makes up only 6.5% of gross domestic product, whereas on many Caribbean islands, that figure is 50% or more. That is by design, he said; in the 1950s and ’60s, laws were structured to keep out the Mafiosos who ran Cuba. It could be increased substantially.
Furthermore, the island has long had a mishmash system of collecting property taxes, partly because so many homes are built informally or illegally — “People get a paycheck, buy [a] few beers, invite their friends and family over to build a wall at a time,” Greenfader said — and partly because the tax code hasn’t been revised since 1950s. “A property worth a million dollars might pay no more than $2K, $3K in taxes for a year,” Greenfader said. A better system of collecting taxes could be implemented to make the government more solvent. Although he is optimistic, Greenfader acknowledged the challenges.
While Puerto Rico is a diverse society, where rich and poor have long mixed freely, the influx of people taking advantage of the tax breaks is “adding an upper class the island never had before,” he said, and there has been some blowback. Workaday employees are facing pension cuts and austerity measures as Puerto Rico grapples with its debt. Currently, according to Democracy Now, 55,000 residents are in foreclosure and the government is turning to privatization as the solution for economic woes, which will enrich investors but hurt the working class. In a Bloomberg article Monday about the search for someone to buy the country’s beleaguered electric company, which goes so far as to ask potential buyers how they would like to be regulated, a Puerto Rico resident said, “We are tired of people coming here to get rich and take advantage of us.” Some grass-roots organizations have taken shape to resist Wall Street — forces that author Naomi Klein explores in a new book, “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes On the Disaster Capitalists.”
Greenfader noted that insurance premiums will likely continue to rise, and the Jones Act, a shipping law that requires goods to stop in a mainland port, makes commodities expensive. Whatever economic policies prevail, at least new construction on the island should be more resilient. Greenfader said builders already adhere to codes that mirror Miami-Dade’s, which were made stronger after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They use reinforced concrete and no wood. Going forward, he said, there is a commitment to using more sustainable designs, particularly in the energy space, such as solar power arrays and micro electric grids. Today, about 10,000 customers in Puerto Rico who lost electricity after last year’s hurricanes are still without power.