The novel coronavirus has challenged the notion that our US supply chains were prepared, exposing limited logistics models, shuttering manufacturing lines, and causing personal protection and medical equipment shortages worldwide. Reliance on other global powers has become a national security concern and prompted a push to reshore life-critical manufacturing.
Puerto Rico is at the front and center of this movement. With a wealth of industry expertise, talent, and R&D prowess, the island is well-positioned to continue building on these strengths and affirm its spot as a global contributor. Puerto Rico can be a solution to filling critical supply chain and emerging gaps in the medical fields.
Talent, as mentioned, is a key driver. Compared to the US national averages, the territory boasts 8.6 times the pharmaceutical experts and 5.3 times the amount on the medical device end; for scientists and engineers across all fields, Puerto Rico has the sixth-largest concentration in the world. It also graduates 26,000 STEM-focused university students a year, which accounts for 60% of all graduates.
Puerto Rico was granted a waiver in May to open its airport capacity to increased passenger and cargo transfer abilities. This positions the island as a key transport hub for the US and, moreover, the Western Hemisphere, serving as a connector to other major global markets (e.g., Europe, Africa).
The island’s swift response to the initial wave of COVID-19 in March came instinctively, given past experiences with natural disasters, and it prompted industry to continue its manufacturing output. When Puerto Rico faced back-to-back hurricanes in September 2017, it still reportedly outperformed mainland states in total pharmaceutical exports. This year, several manufacturers claimed zero downtime in shift operations during the January earthquake.
With federal agencies eyeing domestic supply chain support for critical drug manufacturing, Puerto Rico is working with companies seeking financial incentives and loan opportunities so that they clearly understand the“why us?” The five reasons driving that message are:
- Site-ready. With 50+ bioscience site-ready facilities and properties at all stages of development ready for occupation, the lead time on getting production going in Puerto Rico is faster than any other location.
- Local supply and distribution chain. Dedicated Puerto Rico-based businesses and industry organizations are equipped with the background and skills necessary to support the bioscience industry’s needs.
- Expertise and workforce. From mapping out the first continuous manufacturing model in the world to supporting other countries (Ireland and Singapore) in building their own bases, Puerto Rico shares the wealth and knowledge with other pharma markets.
- Resources. Puerto Rico is working in close collaboration with the Development Finance Corporation and other federal agencies, in addition to the private sector, on creating competitive tax incentives and financing packages best suited for prospects seeking to reshore.
- Continuously innovating. Aside from the biosciences industry, the island is investing in renewable energy solutions, advanced connectivity, and transportation, among other entrepreneurial initiatives.
This is a historic moment for Puerto Rico to solidify its place in the US medical supply chain and serve as a base for key drug and medical device manufacturing, while creating new opportunities for its workforce and the larger biopharma industry.
About the author
Gail T. Nolan is chief strategy officer of Invest Puerto Rico.