When Roosevelt Roads Naval Base ceased operations in 2004, the surrounding region suffered a significant population and financial loss. The land transfer process from the Navy to the local government created the Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA), entity with the responsibility of leading the rebuilding process and revitalization of the former base and the adjacent communities of Ceiba, Fajardo and Naguabo. The collaboration between the LRA and the communities seeks to improve public infrastructure and renovate economic activity in the area, as well as improve access to health care, improve educational opportunities, reduce crime, and spur job creation.
The area served by the Roosevelt Roads LRA in eastern Puerto Rico was recently designated a Promise Zone by President Obama. This designation made the region eligible for funding that can help them develop job training for a modern workforce, improve access to education, and provide for the development of improved public safety and affordable housing.
I was able to take part in a very productive meeting recently, where I was joined by our Administrator for Rural Business Services, Sam Rikkers – who co-chairs the Promise Zone steering committee – as well as Fred Pfaeffle Arana, Representative of the Puerto Rico White House Task Force and USDA Rural Development’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, other Federal agency partners, and the members of the Roosevelt Roads LRA.
In this session, the LRA explained its goals and plans for the impacted region, and shared case studies and program snapshots on ways to be successful in the rejuvenation of Roosevelt Roads. We listened intently, and then provided overviews on ways our programs in the USDA as well as Small Business Administration can be leveraged with local investment and hard work to make very real progress towards improving the economic conditions in the area.
We are very grateful with President Obama for his recognizing the challenges we face here in Puerto Rico, and his designation of a Promise Zone is a shot in the arm for improving rural growth in the Eastern side of the island. As we recover from the worst economic crisis in our history, we have high expectations for the future plans for what once was Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, and I feel confident the blueprint we make here can later be replicated in other distressed areas of Puerto Rico.