In the last few years, Puerto Rico has suffered from a massive public debt crisis — the territory is currently struggling to pay off $70 billion in debt, which has led to widespread layoffs and 11 years of recession.
As a result, Puerto Rican professionals such as doctors, teachers, and business owners are fleeing the territory in droves, an exodus that’s placed further strain on the economy. Likewise, many young people who have left Puerto Rico for education or work opportunities are staying away. According to The New York Times, 400,000 people have left the country in the past 13 years alone, a huge loss for an island with just 3.4 million residents.
However, while many professionals seek opportunities in the United States and elsewhere, some young Puerto Ricans are moving in the opposite direction. These ambitious young people say they feel an obligation to return home.
When MIT graduate Eric Crespo, the 25-year-old founder of the online food delivery service Lunchera, decided to move back home, his friends told him he was crazy.
“People were like: ‘Are you crazy? Why would you ever do that? Go back way later; you’re basically going into a hellhole right now,’” Crespo told The New York Times from San Juan.
According to a recent New York Times report, Crespo is part of a small but significant wave of young, college-educated Puerto Ricans who are moving back home to open businesses and create new jobs.
These enterprising young people face an uphill battle.
While the Federal Reserve reports that U.S. consumer debt reached an incredible $3.4 trillion in 2015, that’s nothing compared to the intractable debt crisis that’s crippled the Puerto Rican economy over the last decade.
However, these young people have a powerful ally in their struggle to help the economy, Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
In May, Rosselló announced new incentives to help entrepreneurs through tax breaks, and the vast majority of these new business owners are under the age of 35.
“I feel the crisis is an opportunity; it’s not until you have a dire situation that you have to do things creatively,” said Daniella Rodríguez Besosa, one of those young entrepreneurs, to the Times. Rodríguez Besosa runs an organic farm, and like many returning entrepreneurs she is trying to revitalize the agriculture industry in Puerto Rico.
She told The New York Times, “Change can happen…If no one is here to change what’s happening, we will suffer.”
Thanks to young entrepreneurs like Crespo and Rodríguez Besosa, new food trucks, farms, restaurants, bars, and tech start-ups are popping up all over Puerto Rico, breathing new life into the struggling economy. In a territory that’s suffered through 11 straight years of economic recession, these educated Millennials are a sign that the tide may finally be turning towards a prosperous future.