Designed in Puerto Rico (Guest Post)
Guest post by Nathaniel Vélez, UPRM Alumni and local entrepreneur.
Made in Wherever, Designed in Puerto Rico
The slogan “Made in Puerto Rico” has been an aspiration for our society for many decades. The ideal is really appealing: by buying things made in Puerto Rico we are helping our local economy. But with our economy having lost traction during the last couple of decades, maybe we should start questioning the value of the ideals represented by “Made in Puerto Rico” because maybe those same ideals might be holding us back in a major way.
The implication behind the “Made in” slogan is that there is implicit value in a product because of the place it was manufactured. Aspiring to build a “Made in” brand for Puerto Rico implies that we still see our country as a major player in the global manufacturing economy. In our collective minds we still believe that our economy will start growing again when we manage to bring back manufacturing to the Island, or even better, when we manage to manufacture or own products.
Puerto Rico came out of poverty in the 50s thanks to strong economic growth driven by manufacturing. It’s understandable that we still hold manufacturing in such a high regard after those many years. Manufacturing gave our parents and grandparents the opportunity to provide to their families better living standards and to prioritize on the education of their children.
Manufacturing Is Becoming a Commodity
Most of the western world have move past manufacturing as the driving force of the economy. Asia has become the undisputed manufacturing powerhouse of the world; having built a well-oiled ecosystem that has outperformed everyone else. This, in turn, has enabled the western world to focus on higher paid jobs with better work conditions for a large sector of the population.
This trend is expected to accelerate with new fabrication technologies like 3D Printing and other forms of robotics that are gaining momentum. If manufacturing will ever return to the local economies of the western world, it will probably be as t service powered by technology, incapable of producing jobs at a significant scale. The biggest opportunity for a country like ours, which has focused for some many years in education, lies on using our creativity to design and engineer products and services that will not necessarily be mass manufactured here.
Designed in Puerto Rico
Where a product is built is mostly unimportant to most consumers nowadays. Asking people to buy products made locally by appealing to their love for our country might have some effect, but will not move the needle in a significant way unless “Made in Puerto Rico” means buying something better. “Made in Germany” still means made with extreme levels of quality and precision and “Made in Japan” still means made with good quality at a reasonable price. But “Made in Puerto Rico” just means that it was made in Puerto Rico, and nothing else. Continuing to try to change that, I think, is not playing to our natural advantages over other places in the world.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense for Puerto Rico to become a manufacturing powerhouse, but for sure we have the potential to become a paradise for designers and engineers. Because we have focused on manufacturing for so many years we have not nourished our design and engineering culture. We still don’t have a unique design style and engineering methodology that play to our strengths as a community, but we are in a great historical position to start creating it. We just need to start imagining what we want people to think in 5 to 10 years when they see with pride somewhere on the box of their latest purchase: “Made in Wherever, Designed in Puerto Rico”.
Source: NVDE Jose Luego Blog Posts