On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico hard; it is regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in United States history. From September 16th to October 2nd, the islands in the Caribbean experienced catastrophic damages, killing thousands of people and affecting millions more. Housing was destroyed, flooding overwhelmed communities, power outages overran cities, and food and water were scarce.
Maria caused over $90 billion in damages in Puerto Rico, upping the island’s debt to over $120 billion. In the moments following Maria, thousands of businesses were lost and people’s lives were drastically changed. Not only was the community destroyed, but now their debt had increased, their infrastructure was decimated, and the workforce was in need of assistance just to survive.
However, there were a few organizations that remained strong through strategic planning and real-time interactions, one of which was Politank.
Politank is a bipartisan governmental affairs and lobbying firm in Puerto Rico that works to bridge the gap between the public and private sector by providing a broad range of legal and government affairs services. Despite Puerto Rico’s hurricane devastation, fiscal crisis, political uncertainty, and a sluggish economy, Politank has continued to grow. How has it been able to succeed in such a challenging environment? To answer this question, let’s take a closer look at what Politank does and the strategies it implemented during the crisis.
As a lobbying firm, Politank executed specific strategies to maintain business for itself and its clients. During and following Hurricane Maria, Politank lost zero clients and zero employees. The company did not miss payroll and even provided food, water, power generators, and assistance to its employees and to the community. In fact, Politank’s employee count increased in the months following the hurricane.
Not only did Politank acquire and install non-FEMA tarps for employees and their relatives who needed to rainproof their damaged homes, but it provided resiliency and aid to non-related worker homes and institutions, such as a hospice center in the southern coastal city of Ponce and an orphanage in Toa Baja. Politank also provided the community with hot meals, diesel and fuel, flashlights, medicines, ice, and many other emergency supplies.
Just how did it do this? Politank’s twofold strategy is maintaining positive leadership and staying present in the situation.
Without effective leadership, individuals lose direction and businesses fail. Through the more-than-decade long economic crisis in Puerto Rico, Francisco Domenech, Managing Partner, and Kenneth McClintock, Senior Public Policy Advisor, have used both short and long-term preparation, great attention to detail, and hard work to successfully maintain the business during the ongoing fiscal and, now, humanitarian crisis.
The primary strategy that these two performed, and which set them apart, was their consistent dedication to having individuals on the ground to provide 24/7 monitoring of the crisis and report the information they gathered back to Politank’s clients on the mainland and on the island. Why is this so important?
From A Political Stance
It’s all about the image. But what does this mean? From a political perspective, it is imperative that anyone seemingly involved in a crisis should have firsthand knowledge of the crisis. Anyone can identify that they want to help from a distance, but this does not make them stand out. And, more commonly than not, the perceived need for help, as portrayed by the media, is inaccurate.
This is why it is important to have team members right in the middle of the controversy, ready and able to report issues as they occur in the community. Only with this firsthand knowledge can a political stance and report be honestly made.
From A Business Perspective
Managing and growing a business in times of economic crisis is one of the most challenging tasks for any entrepreneur. Puerto Rican businesses have dealt with an energy, water, communication, health, education, transportation, food, and fiscal crisis, all at the same time. Despite these challenges, they need to maintain their business profits. In order to succeed at this task, they need an in-depth understanding of the crisis at hand.
From A Cultural Understanding
Being present allows individuals to understand how the crisis is really impacting the people in the community, not just how the media portrays the effects. With team members integrated in the community and experiencing the local culture, businesses can better understand where to focus their attention and how to help. As they connect with the community, they are statistically more likely to maintain their business.
All in all, having a team involved in the community, with boots on the ground, and providing real-time reports is imperative to a business’ success in an economic crisis. This is exactly what Politank did: it was on the ground 24/7 providing its clients a real assessment of the situation as it was unfolding; it was informing its clients of what they could expect regarding their businesses, which assisted in effective decision making for their future.
This strategy can be challenging because it not only requires non-stop involvement and communication, but also generates emotional strain due to constant interactions in a time of crisis. In that time of crisis, if you don’t have your team in place, it’s too late. Businesses seeking success in such moments know how important it is to have the right team in place to be prepared for any contingency. When difficulties arise, these clients understand that the experts are ready and willing to take action to support their success.
Where Is Puerto Rico Today?
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. More than three million Americans were without electricity, lining up for drinkable water and shelters. Ten months later, thousands still lack power and are living, displaced, in shelters or with friends and family in Puerto Rico or in other states.
The businesses that grew despite the crisis – those that had on-the-ground support and were dedicated to making a change in the community – provided assistance in the recovery of the communities. Not only did they provide aid for the individuals hurting most, but they also provided and continue to provide hope, the key element to the future of Puerto Rico, and our fellow Americans on the island.
While many individuals have gained access to necessities, the road to recovery is still a long journey. Puerto Rico has struggled to secure adequate relief funds from the Federal Government and is still challenged with the debt it had prior to the disaster, which continues to grow.
Puerto Ricans are moving off the island to seek refuge on the mainland during the recovery process, further hurting the economy. If families continue to leave the island, weathering away the its economic base, the crisis will only get worse. The people living in Puerto Rico are anxious to restore their proud island but still need national support and confidence as the first anniversary of the storm approaches. The government will have new alternatives for strengthening Puerto Rico’s future resiliency, among new entities that Politank has begun after Maria, as well as existing pre-Maria clients.
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