Promise Zones Announced in Puerto Rico

The White House today announced a new group of “Promise Zones” — communities where the federal government works with local government, nonprofits, industry, and community residents to improve the quality of life.  The Ceiba, Fajardo, and Naguabo municipalities of Puerto Rico are among the communities chosen for the next wave of Promise Zone communities.

The Ceiba, Fajardo, and Naguabo municipalities of Puerto Rico are among the communities chosen for the next wave of Promise Zone communities.

Promise Zones are “communities that develop a holistic plan to ensure that every child’s course in life is determined not by the zip code she’s born in, but by the scope of her dreams,” President Obama wrote in his announcement at Medium. “To date, 13 urban, rural, and tribal poverty communities have been designated Promise Zones, where the federal government is working hand-in-hand with local community leaders to create jobs, increase graduation rates, build more affordable housing, reduce violent crime in our neighborhoods, and much more.”

Previous Promise Zone communities have created initiatives including clean up of abandoned buildings, industry-government-school collaborations for job-focused high school education, and ensuring access to healthy food for inner city residents. The Promise Zone program encourages a wide range of activities and approaches with the overall goal of improving the lives of the people living in these communities.

The Promise Zone principles distinguish this plan from some other government initiatives:

  • Accountability for Clear Goals: Each Promise Zone has identified clear outcomes they will pursue to revitalize their community, with a focus on creating jobs, increasing economic activity, improving educational opportunities, increasing access to quality, affordable housing and reducing violent crime.  All Promise Zones will continuously track those outcomes, and have committed to sharing data across their community partners (private-sector, non-profits, federal, state, and local agencies, etc.)  so that each partner can work towards improvement and accountability.  The Administration will work with the Promise Zones and third party experts to track progress and evaluate results.
  • Intensive Federal Partnership: … Promise Zones will benefit from intensive federal support at the local level to help them implement their economic and community development goals.
  • Help Accessing Resources: Where necessary to achieve their goals, Promise Zones will get priority and be able to access federal investments that further the goals of job creation, additional private investment, increased economic activity, improved educational opportunity, and reduction in violent crime.
  • National Service:  Each Promise Zone will be provided five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to support their strategic plan.  These VISTAs will recruit and manage volunteers, and strengthen the capacity of Promise Zones to expand economic opportunity.
  • Investing in What Works: In order to be designated as a Promise Zone, …communities [must] have already demonstrated that they are pursuing strategies that have data proving their effectiveness. This same data will also help direct future federal investments to these Zones.

Promise Zone communities also use a plan similar to Empowerment Zones tax credits.

The three municipalities included in the new Promise Zone plan are considered a single community: the Eastern Puerto Rico Promise Zone. This area, the White House says, was “devastated by the closure of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in 2004… In 2013 the Navy finalized the transfer of 3,409 acres and 1,600 facilities to the Promise Zone designee, the Local Redevelopment Authority of Roosevelt Roads.   With a poverty rate of 45.77 percent and unemployment rate of 17.34 percent, this Promise Zone is focused on accelerating redevelopment to benefit the wider Eastern Region of Puerto Rico by upgrading the former Naval Station, improving marine industry infrastructure, boosting hotel development and local tourism, and developing a local food hub and a commercial-scale hydroponic farm with teaching kitchens and a food business incubator, among other goals.”

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