Is this an island or a peninsula? It seems like an elementary question, but the answer is not at all clear…you are looking at the city of Tyre on Lebanon’s coast on the Mediterranean. It did not always look this way…You see, Alexander the Great laid eyes upon it in 332 BC and subsequently laid siege on the city; it would seem that the Tyrians were not playing ball with Alexander, and with good reason. Not only were the Tyrians master seafarers and their city was fortified…it was also an island. Not to make it sound simple, but Alexander built a mole…a bridge to connect the island to the mainland, destroy it and sell thousands of its people into slavery.
What does this have to do with Puerto Rico’s economy? The fact is that, although it looks like one, Puerto Rico is no longer an island. No one is, as illustrated by the map below. Undersea fiber optic cables connect us seamlessly with the world, enabling not just the transmission of voice and data but also the offshoring of work to every corner of the globe, both manufacturing and services.
The level of sophistication of the global networks simply stuns, enabling the creation of some of today’s most successful companies, such as mighty Google, which, like Alexander the Great, has literally terraformed a new electronic geography.
The Puerto Rico Formerly Known as an Island has already been redefined as a node in global flows of talent, technologies, services and knowledge. It is a node intimately connected to both Anglo-Saxon and Latin Americas, politically, economically and culturally. These new facts bring questions to the fore…why limit education in Puerto Rico to just those born on the island? Why not reach out to the thousands of medical tourists? Can Puerto Rico become an India for federal contractors? Are there ways to transcend the “brain drain” mentality?
“Forget the brain drain—today’s highly skilled migrants circulate between the US and developing countries, creating technology businesses and spreading prosperity along the way”.—AnnaLee Saxenian, dean and professor of the University of California School of Information
The starting point for Puerto Rico’s innovation enterprise must then be to look beyond its former geography, examine these flows, and commit to adding value on a grand and sustainable scale. This will require business skills and the active participation of each of us as individuals…just as surely as free markets decimated central planning, freely collaborating network of us are outpacing policymaking institutions. It is up to us.