Puerto Rico Governor Luis G. Fortuño paid tribute to IEEE’s 125th anniversary and IEEE’s contributions to the island commonwealth at a 13 February luncheon during the IEEE Board of Directors series of meetings at the Condado Plaza Hotel, in San Juan. He also outlined his plans for getting Puerto Rico’s economy back on track since taking office on 2 January. Fortuño is trying to plug a US $3.2 billion budget deficit.
“IEEE has come to be known as a leading authority not just in electrical engineering but in all technological areas, including aerospace systems, computers, telecommunications, and biomedical engineering,” Fortuño said. “Puerto Rico has a lot of potential in many of these high-tech sectors, and we are very proud of the local engineers from these industries.”
OLD FRIENDS A childhood pal of 2010 IEEE President Pedro Ray, Fortuño said “it filled Puerto Rico with pride” when IEEE’s members elected Ray as its first noncontinental U.S. member to become president.
Fortuño thanked IEEE for its continued support of the Arecibo Observatory, in northwestern Puerto Rico, home of the world’s largest radio and radar telescope. The observatory was named an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing in 2002. The national research center is operated by Cornell University for the National Science Foundation.
“I will continue to lobby for future federal funding to avoid any phase-out threats to this important astronomy and radar-imaging facility,” Fortuño said. The observatory is under pressure to cut its $10.5 million annual budget to $8 million over the next three years and is facing possible closure in 2011 if it fails to get $4 million a year in outside funding.
As the father of two budding engineers, Fortuño spoke of his great interest in IEEE’s preuniversity education programs and said he “would be honored if Puerto Rico could participate in them.”
“I want more of the island’s kids to choose a career in engineering,” he said. “It’s a path to our future.”
In recognition of IEEE’s anniversary, the governor issued a proclamation that noted “the historical importance of the mission of this prestigious organization, which in its beginnings was formed by technology pioneers such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. I proclaim February 13, 2009, the 125th anniversary of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In so doing I extend warm congratulations to all IEEE members. I extol them to continue combining their efforts in the fields of technology—which results in benefits of the universal common well being.”
AMBITIOUS AGENDA Fortuño, the first Republican governor of Puerto Rico since 1969, described his plans for stimulating the commonwealth’s economy. Puerto Rico has been in a recession for three years, a result of “overspending practices and lack of fiscal discipline,” he said. The island’s unemployment rate is 12 percent, in part because Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Smith Klein, Wyeth, and other pharmaceutical companies have closed or downsized facilities. The pharmaceutical industry accounts for nearly 25 percent of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product.
“The fiscal crisis may momentarily overwhelm some of us, but it means we need to take immediate action,” he said.
Such action includes controlling spending through cost reductions and curbing growth of the government’s workforce; reducing the time it takes for the government to approve construction permits; and adopting policies to encourage economic growth, including aggressive promotion of public- and private-sector partnerships.
To stimulate more jobs, Fortuño said he plans to bolster the island’s life sciences research sector. That would complement the almost 25 percent of the world’s biological manufacturing facilities already located on the island. Plans are under way to develop the Puerto Rico Knowledge Corridor, nearly 2000 acres of educational research campuses with commercial laboratories, a state-of-the-art transportation network, a molecular science building, and a cancer center.
“Our goal is to become the global health-care leader in manufacturing and world-class research and development in life sciences,” Fortuño said. He pointed out that Puerto Rico has more than 90 public and private universities and colleges, which award more than 30 000 degrees each year, including 10 000 in science, engineering, and technology.
“Puerto Rico needs to consolidate itself as an investment hub and leader in all technological, aerospace, and biomedical sectors. For this to happen, we need to transform our economy,” he said. “In the next four years, we’ll plug ourselves into the information technology superhighway and put Puerto Rico back in business.”
Watch a broadcast of the governor's speech on IEEE.tv.