By Brian Bourgerie, Enterprise Manager focusing on Innovation, Investment and Entrepreneurship for Invest Puerto Rico
Sitting in her home about 30 minutes outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, there are some days Samantha McGue needs a break from work. So, she jumps in her car, and in a matter of minutes she’s looking at the ocean.
“It’s beautiful here. I look outside, take a break and walk out and get some vitamin D. Or I drive a couple of minutes and go experience the ocean for a minute just to calm myself,” said McGue, who works remotely as Director of People and Partnerships for HigherMe, a scrappy hiring software start-up based on the mainland United States that specializes in the high-turnover restaurant and retail sectors.
“Especially through this pandemic it’s really important to ground yourself. I definitely have that here,” said McGue. “I’m able to be 10 times more productive because I’m in a very calm environment.”
McGue, who moved her family to Puerto Rico full time after stints in the San Francisco Bay Area and Denver, Colorado, represents shifts in remote work driven by technology that were underway prior to the pandemic, but accelerated dramatically during the crisis.
Overseeing HigherMe’s own human resources as well as helping clients with theirs, McGue sees remote opportunities in Puerto Rico as an opportunity for businesses and remote workers that aren’t tethered to office space or geography post-pandemic. “I think there’s going to be physical movement of people coming out here more and more and with that comes talent,” McGue said.
Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and the ICT Infrastructure
The large community of innovators found in Puerto Rico is supported by a unique mix of start-ups, incubators, and shared co-working environments with the amenities to support a tropical lifestyle all while requiring none of the hassle of international work or travel.
As a U.S. territory, the island is governed by federal law, meaning there’s no need for work visas or waivers. There are also the same legal and intellectual property protections, which are particularly critical to the innovative tech entrepreneurs.
And despite persisting misconceptions following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico has an underrated infrastructure resilient enough to stay connected with the U.S. and rest of the world – because as an island, it has had to stay connected for years, the livelihoods of the three million plus residents largely depend on it.
“That’s one of the main concerns people have coming to Puerto Rico: ‘Am I going to stay connected?’ We have high-speed internet, and it has been fine here,” McGue said. “Rest assured, we have reliable access to high-speed internet and 5G for mobile to steadily support Zoom calls, running multiple cloud-based platforms, and communication tools like Slack for your day-to-day remote work environment.”
The island also relies on an island-wide Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure, including 31 internet providers and three 5G providers. In fact, a recent study ranked Puerto Rico 21 out of 142 jurisdictions with the highest average internet speeds, outpacing 121 other countries, including the mainland U.S.
Work is also underway to finalize the creation of the Puerto Rico 5G Zone, which essentially makes the island a testing ground for the latest 5G technology coordinating with labs throughout the U.S. from Indiana to Texas, Washington State to Hawaii. Those resources are part of the larger ecosystem supporting growth on the island that are attracting innovators in AI, blockchain and fintech.
Business Creation is Booming with the Talent to Support It
According to the local Department of State, new business creations increased by 25% from 2016 to 2019. In fact, start-up program Parallel18 has helped more than 200 start-ups raise more than $95 million in just over four years, attracting entrepreneurs from around the world. In total, there has been $200 million raised in commitments to private equity and venture capital between 2015 and 2019.
“Puerto Rico is a beautiful place to base a company. It’s positioned uniquely with tax structures that favor startups, infrastructure and travel connections that make it a world-class place to do business, and the ability to connect with entrepreneurs and investors from across the globe,” said Sebastian Vidal, executive director of Parallel 18.
Ultimately, that business ecosystem starts with the top tier technical workforce created by Puerto Rico’s local universities, which produced 26,500 STEM graduates in 2019 and annually have more than 200,000 students enrolled.
“There’s quite a bit of technical talent to tap into here on a local scale which may be more affordable than some of the same technical talent in the mainland,” McGue said. “There are a lot of Puerto Rican universities that are on job boards, like Handshake, where a lot of the talent is graduating and are looking to stay local, especially the technical talent like engineers and product managers.”
As they do, many will likely have increased options to work remotely – just like Samantha McGue.