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Inteco propels east-central Puerto Rico toward a knowledge-based economy

By Joanne C. Curcio of Caribbean Business

August 25, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Technological innovation centers (CITs), regional permit-processing offices, research parks, an industry incubator association for entrepreneurs, and research & development centers (RDCs) for university research of products and services for future marketing are currently underway or scheduled to kick off in 2006, to jump start economic growth in the eight municipalities that make up Puerto Rico’s central-eastern corridor.

They are all part of the East-Central Technological Initiative (Inteco by its Spanish acronym), a nonprofit corporation through which representatives and experts in different fields from local private industry, government, and universities can meet to find ways to foster socioeconomic development in the municipalities that make up the island’s east-central region, through research and development and the creation of new enterprises, President Oscar Jiménez explained. He added "the concept is to work as one entity, and as owners, with the commercialization of the final products and services as the ultimate goal.

"Around the world, companies are moving away from a system in which most of their research and development is done in their own [private] laboratories to one in which they actively seek to collaborate with others in a new form of open innovation. The best forms of knowledge-transfer involve human interaction, and Inteco’s structure encourages frequent and easy communication between businesspeople, academics, and local government," Jiménez maintained. Inteco’s aim is to unite local universities and businesses "to concentrate on the skills of our people, to educate them to become entrepreneurs, and graduate from college with skills that are relevant to the demands of today’s market."

The corporation is funded by the island’s main private and public institutions of higher learning, private industries, the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco), and the region’s eight municipal governments: Caguas, Cayey, Humacao, Gurabo, San Lorenzo, Juncos, Las Piedras, and Naguabo. Private industries providing support include Avant Technologies of Puerto Rico Inc., Microsoft Caribbean, Nypro Puerto Rico Inc., Manufacturing Technology Services Inc., Virtual Educational Resources Network Inc., Lehigh Press Puerto Rico Inc., and Centennial of Puerto Rico. Among its academic-sector members are Ana G. Méndez University System (Agmus), Red Técnico Universitaria de Caguas, and University of Puerto Rico.

CITs and more

One part of the plan included the development of CITs with several programs to enhance local high-school education. The corporation recently opened its first two CITs, in Caguas and Juncos, the latter supported by Microsoft and their technology partners Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Softek, Executrain, and Centennial, through which local high-school students will learn about technological advances and participate in training programs, such as a pilot program to certify 15 students in Microsoft products. "The purpose of a CIT is to develop a technological and entrepreneurial culture among the area’s youth, to prepare them for a knowledge-based economy," Jiménez pointed out. The CITs also provide students with "hot spots" where students and community members can connect to the Internet for free with a wireless connection.

The two CITs include an after-school program dubbed "Smart Teens," in which students receive 168 hours of classroom instruction in math, engineering, and entrepreneurship. So far, 31 central Caguas high-school students have graduated from the program, and a new group is expected to enter the program shortly. "One of our goals for fiscal 2005-06 [July 1 to June 30] is to educate 240 students in the two centers and a third CIT in Cayey, scheduled to open in October," Jiménez said.

Another innovative concept brought to life and sponsored by Inteco members is a regional permit-processing office for industrial development projects. The aim of this office is to simplify and reduce the time it takes to process the permits required and issued by government for new industrial projects, using the latest technology and systems. "Developers of new manufacturing or service-oriented projects will be eligible to take advantage of this resource," Jiménez pointed out.

Inteco also is fostering the creation of technology-research parks in Cayey and a new industries-incubator association for Puerto Rico, both geared toward helping prospective technology entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.

RDCs to develop university research of products that could be marketed by young businesspeople are another Inteco enterprise. Jiménez said the first such center, slated to open in 2006, was designed by Universidad del Turabo (UT) experts. Partners with Inteco in creating the center will be Pridco, UT, and Solena Inc., which respectively will provide the funds, facilities, and technology.

"The idea [behind the different programs] is to go one step beyond research. The stage we want to develop is commercialization, because economic development only occurs when you create something [a product or service] that can be sold," Jiménez said.

The Inteco president also said that in July, the initiative signed a collaborative agreement with the Spanish Association of Technology Parks (APTE by its Spanish acronym), which he describes as the beginning of a bridge between the 20 existing technology parks in Spain and the one Inteco is proposing for Cayey. "This relationship will expedite our process to make the park a successful one," Jiménez said.

As part of its aggressive growth plan, in 2006, Inteco plans to open its headquarters in Humacao, in a 47,000-square-foot locale expected to also become the future site of a business incubator and regional permit-issuing office, Jiménez added.

Brainchild of two community leaders

Inteco was the brainchild of Caguas Mayor William Miranda Marín and Agmus President José F. Méndez, who together three years ago came up with the notion of creating a new economic development model that would be an alternative to the traditional, centralized model used by the local government. The two community leaders traveled to North Carolina to see first-hand and study that state’s renowned Research Triangle Institute (RTI). RTI is a think tank, set up in 1958 to promote research from North Carolina universities.

RTI is the fourth-largest, nonprofit contract-research organization in the U.S., with areas of research ranging from statistics to virtual reality, from cochlear implants to advanced pharmaceutical projects.

Upon their return, Miranda and Méndez commissioned a study to see if a similar concept could be implemented in the island’s east-central corridor. The study revealed the region’s conditions were appropriate for developing an RTP-type organization. It had high-quality universities, adequate infrastructure, and leading companies in technology. The pair approached private-sector and government leaders, who responded enthusiastically to the proposal. In September 2003, plans for Inteco were set into motion.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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