Puerto Rico Business
A thousand miles southeast of Miami, Puerto Rico is a crossroads for business today just as it was centuries ago when ships laden with silver from South America sailed into port on their way home to Spain with their treasures.
Today, Puerto Rico is where American can-do capitalism meets the friendly person-to-person style of the islands and the courtly courtesy inherited from its Spanish legacy.
The attractiveness of the 3.6 million-person Puerto Rican market is obvious from the number of U.S. businesses seen on city streets around the island. Retail giants such as Sears, Wal-Mart, Kmart, and JC Penney anchor shopping centers and malls alongside locally owned shops and island chain stores. Towers bearing such familiar names as Chase and Citibank rise in the Hato Rey business district of San Juan next to local banks such as market-leader Banco Popular and international banks such as Banco Santander.
Manufacturing firms whose products range from electronics to women's lingerie often choose smaller island towns as the best site for their factories.
As a U.S. Commonwealth, federal laws and regulations apply in such key areas as banking and businesses face none of the Customs hassles or currency fluctuations often associated with setting up operations elsewhere in the Caribbean or Latin America. For this reason, many U.S. businesses seeking to expand internationally see Puerto Rico as the ideal bridge to the Spanish-speaking markets of the hemisphere. With its cultural links to Latin America and its integrated role in the U.S. economy, Puerto Rico has the advertising, marketing and financial expertise that helps many stateside companies reach successfully into new markets.
In just the latter half of this century, Puerto Rico transformed itself from a mostly agricultural island called "The Poorhouse of the Caribbean" into a booming economy with a strong manufacturing base. The impetus was "Operation Bootstrap," the economic development program relentlessly pursued by former Governor Luis Muñoz Marin.
The legacy can be seen in the many plants turning out everything from Wint o' Green Lifesavers to the latest cancer-fighting drugs. Indeed, pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Merck, Baxter International and others are well known for the high-tech jobs they provide.
These and other U.S.-based companies have benefited from a tax break known as Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Service code, which allows these firms to avoid paying federal taxes on their profits from their Puerto Rico operations by keeping the funds invested on the island for a period of time. The Section 936 tax break is one of the many items currently ensnared in the federal budget debate, however, and whether it will be modified or eventually phased out and replaced by other incentives is still uncertain.
For now, however, the huge Section 936 deposits in island banks create a pool of funds for financing. This helps keep interest rates attractive and money more easily available whether for opening a sidewalk cafe, building a new manufacturing facility or buying an oceanfront condominium.
Real estate is an attractive investment. Puerto Rico is, after all, a 3,500-square-mile island ringed by beaches, blessed by mountains offering spectacular views and cool breezes, and full of choices ranging from gleaming condominiums next door to glitzy casinos to luxurious resort complexes to quiet, remote coffee plantations. Whatever your taste (except for skiing), Puerto Rico contains investment options that you can enjoy, as well. And, as the old saying about real estate investment goes, "They're not making any more of it."
Some investors buy an attractive property for a future retirement spot and build their equity by renting to vacationers until they're ready to make a more permanent move to the island. Time-shares are also available.
Entrepreneurs have been coming to Puerto Rico to do business and invest for centuries. All that has changed is that it's easier today.
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