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Brightwood Development Corp Receives Federal Grant in Puerto Rico

Brightwood Development Corporation (BDC) of Springfield has been awarded an $800,000 federal grant to establish and operate the Western Puerto Rico Food and Agro Processing Center (FAPC), a production facility program for emerging agro-processing firms in Puerto Rico. The grant, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Community Services, will fund the Western Puerto Rico Food and Agro Processing Center in the Porta del Sol region. It is part of PfC’s participation the new federal Healthy Foods Financing Initiative.

“We’re creating the center as part of a larger plan to stimulate the expansion of innovative businesses in viable, growing industries,” said BDC Vice President Bruce Young-Candelaria, who is project supervisor. The center will house five tenants in the food processing and distribution segments, creating a minimum of 40 new jobs. Thirty of the jobs will be filled by low-income individuals, Young-Candelaria said.

Yania Villanueva, owner of Tierra Viva, Inc., a veterinary clinic, with one of three new employees hired under PfC’s Job Opportunities for Low Income Individuals (JOLI) program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The grant builds on investments already made in Puerto Rico by BDC’s parent organization, Partners for Community (PfC), a nonprofit bas ed in Springfield with additional offices and staff in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico. Under separate funding from HHS, Partners for Community has trained more than forty small businesses, non-profits, and faith-based organizations to expand their operations. PfC is also developing a Puerto Rico-wide strategy for development of the island’s tourism industry.

Javier Zapata, coordinator of PfC’s Grow Your Enterprise Program in western Puerto Rico, hands a grant to Captain Erick Hernandez to help grow his eco-tourism business in that region. The pr ogram is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Job Opportunities for Low Income Individuals (JOLI) Program.

In Springfield, BDC built and operates La Plaza del Mercado, a retail and office mall in the largely Hispanic North End, as well as a commun ity health clinic and single and multi-family housing developments.

“This exciting new venture ties in with three economic development projects we already have underway,” said Heriberto Flores, chairman of both BDC and Partners for Community. “In addition to federal economic development and human services funds, we’ve invested more than $100,000 of our own funding in the western region. This is based on our faith that Porta del Sol is full of economic promise for its residents and for Puerto Rico as a whole,” he said. Flores added that Prof. John Mullin, Dean of the Graduate School at UMass Amherst and a recognized expert in economic development, has been crucial to the success of PfC’s Puerto Rico initiatives.

Since 2007, Partners and BDC leadership teams have focused intensely on economic development, job creation, housing and related initiatives, working as a consortium to realize new potential in the western region. These efforts, led by PfC Puerto Rico Vice President Luis Valderrama, have resulted in a comprehensive, five-year Regional Economic Development and Investment Strategy for Porta del Sol.

Produced with funding from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Strategy covers all dimensions of the regional economy and prioritizes recommended private and public investments in agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure, health, tourism, education and other economic sectors with high growth potential.

Under the new grant, the agro-processing center will house and support emerging businesses that will process and market food and related items produced in Puerto Rico. It will work with tenants to employ green technology in processing operations, create new, permanent jobs for low-income individuals and make measurable contributions to local community revitalization. The project complements the federal government’s new Healthy Foods Financing Initiative, designed to increase availability of healthy foods in low-income communities lacking supermarkets and other sources of fresh foods.

The center is expected to be a profitable, independent entity within three years.

Flores pointed to broad community interest and participation in the agro-processing center. Among those he credits with active support are the Puerto Rico Planning Board, and Porta del Sol members of the Puerto Rico Senate and House of Representatives, western region mayors and a variety of community organizations and residents.

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