Since 1999, PathStone has offered services in Puerto Rico, focusing on four major services areas: housing development, homeownership assistance programs, training and employment services and economic development. Interested in integrating these various service areas to spur economic growth and development in a focused region in western Puerto Rico, PathStone requested $2 million from HUD to fund the Rural Innovation Fund in 2011.
The Rural Innovation Fund (RIF) is a comprehensive rural community economic development project in the Castañer Region of the Cordillera Central on the western portion of the Island (Lares, San Sebastian, Maricao, Las Marias, Yauco, Utuado, Adjuntas, Guayanilla and Sabana Grande). In an effort to address the overall needs of this unique rural area, the approach will combine the following elements into a single coordinated project to boost the local economy:
1) training and employment services for workers;
2) training and resources for growers;
3) financial and technical assistance for micro enterprise and small business;
4) collaboration with local organizations around the agro-tourism industry; and
5) homeownership counseling and creation of affordable housing.
The target area is the center for coffee growing in Puerto Rico, and there is a growing interest on the island in “agro-tourism” as well as organic farming. There is a local desire to attract tourists from on and off the Island into the mountain region to discover the process of coffee production while enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
The area of focus of the RIF is connected to Ponce by route 123, the focus for economic development is the old Route 123 corridor, a route traditionally used to bring goods to market. Hospitality will connect with the agricultural sector, especially coffee, to increase the number of job opportunities, cross sector collaboration and appropriate training for agricultural employment as well as small business and micro enterprise that will fuel the hospitality industry linked to agro-tourism.
Several partners and collaborators have sided with PathStone’s goals and outcomes for the region. The Catholic University of Puerto Rico and its Architecture School are currently undertaking an asset mapping report of Rt. 123 in order to turn said access road into to a major corridor for tourism. The 123 Corridor, including branch roads such as Rte 135 and Rte 128, is the traditional route that coffee has taken out of the mountains and links the Target Area with Ponce, which is a major tourist hub.
The Center for the New Economy, a non-partisan think-tank institution dedicated to the advancement Puerto Rico’s economy, has produced a report for the RIF project that includes a profound analysis of the coffee industry of the region, along with suggested strategies on how to build a sustainable agricultural economy based on said product.
The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization whose mission is to secure functional and healthy ecosystems in Puerto Rico, will provide its expertise and resources towards the advancement of the RIF’s programmatic activities, mainly focusing on agro-tourism activities.