For centuries, agriculture was the center of the economy of Puerto Rico. In the middle of the 20th century, a shift to manufacturing took place. Agriculture currently accounts for less than 1% of Puerto Rico’s GDP, while manufacturing accounts for nearly half. However, the GDP figures reflect transfer payments and other tax tricks that do not enrich Puerto Rico — just the U.S. and multinational corporations that own the companies. In fact, manufacturing jobs are just about 8% of the employment in Puerto Rico, quite a bit less than on the mainland.
The agricultural sector used to be centered around the production of sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco. Now, Puerto Rico produces tropical fruits and vegetables — but only 15% of the local food supply. The manufacturing sector is mostly focused on pharmaceuticals and medical devices, as well as industrial machinery, textiles, and electronics. As the saying goes, the Island produces what it doesn’t use and uses what it doesn’t produce.
Both manufacturing and agriculture can contribute to future prosperity for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has some real advantages for manufacturing. The attitude of workers and potential workers toward manufacturing is more positive inc Puerto Rico than in the states. People living on the mainland often consider manufacturing jobs dangerous, dirty, and uncertain. Few parents or high school counselors direct young people toward these jobs, even though today’s manufacturing is very different from the factories of the past. Manufacturing jobs pay more, offer more training, and are no more dangerous or difficult than service jobs, yet manufacturing in the states suffers from severe labor shortages.
Puerto Rico’s traditional connection with manufacturing makes the workforce a better bet for manufacturers. Many people are experienced in manufacturing and ready to work in factories. The particular focus on healthcare products is in line with anticipated future demands. And this skilled, experience labor force accepts lower wages than workers in most states, even though the coast of living is not lower in Puerto Rico. That will not continue to be true after statehood, but at the moment it can result sin significant savings for manufacturers.
Infrastructure can be an issue in Puerto Rico, but again the established manufacturing system makes logistics work. Puerto Rico is strategically located for shipping globally. The current leadership of the Island is working to improve the infrastructure.
While agriculture has been hit hard by recent natural disasters, Puerto Rico has some advantages in this area as well. One advantage is the striking level of biodiversity. To consider just one example, nearly all the bananas sold in the states are just one variety, and that variety is threatened. Puerto Rico has nearly 100 varieties of bananas and plantains. The territory can literally provide a solution to the banana crisis. Bees are another example. Unlike honey from the United States, where bees have so many options for collecting nectar that honey can never honestly be described as organic, Puerto Rico can. produce organic honey.
This level of biodiversity continues beyond bananas and bees, and will allow Puerto Rico to produce greater variety and to focus on the most profitable specialty crops. Most farms in Puerto Rico are small, so they are suited for organic farming and exotic produce which can command higher prices than crops like corn and soybeans.
Only 2% of jobs in Puerto Rico are in agriculture, compared with 8% in manufacturing. The great majority of jobs on the Island are in services. For many years, agriculture was not considered a desirable job. While in the states, few people are willing to work in agriculture, Puerto Rico is seeing a change in attitude, Among younger workers, agriculture is enjoying a renaissance.
Both industries have serious potential for the future. With planning and dedication, both can provide greater prosperity than service jobs.