The connection between Puerto Rico and New Jersey was never so evident as it was during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 — a devastating national disaster that is estimated to have brought more than 30,000 Puerto Ricans to the state.
They joined a community of approximately 500,000 residents with Puerto Rican heritage.
New Jersey, however, did not have a formal connection charged with building ties with the U.S. territory. That changed in January 2020, when Gov. Phil Murphy established the New Jersey Puerto Rico Commission.
On Thursday, he announced the first 29 appointments to the commission, which will be co-chaired by Peggy Anastos and Jose Lozano. (A complete list of appointees is at the bottom of this report.)
Anastos and Lozano will be charged with helping to enhance the cultural and economic ties between the state and the territory.
Through this commission, Murphy said the state will contribute to Puerto Rico’s economic recovery and continue the state’s significant relationship with the island. The commission also will advance bilateral trade and investment, work on joint policy issues and encourage New Jersey companies to invest in Puerto Rico, among other initiatives.
The commission will report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the Legislature within one year of its initial organizational meeting and by Feb. 1 of each succeeding year for the activities of the preceding calendar year.
ROI-NJ caught up Lozano, the CEO of Choose New Jersey, to discuss the possibilities. The conversation is edited for space and clarity.
ROI-NJ: What is the goal of this commission?
Jose Lozano: We really want to increase the relationship with the community — which already is strong. It is one of the largest Latino communities in New Jersey, but it doesn’t have any major commission or representation. I think we saw the depth of the relationship post-Maria; this will be a way to build those ties stronger — but from a cultural and an economic development standpoint.
ROI: You’ve done a lot to increase the relationship the state has with Israel, India and Germany — should this be viewed with the same lens?
JL: This is what we’re going to spend the first year figuring out. There are a lot of obvious ties; we have to see how they best can work together.
It’s not like Israel or Germany or India, where there’s a definite understanding of the two-way trade that can occur. There may be some companies there that can do well here and some companies here that can do better there. We won’t really know until we do our homework.
New Jersey could probably help Puerto Rico more than Puerto Rico can help New Jersey right now. But, given that the population is so aligned, and given the proximity to it, there’s a mutual benefit: When Puerto Rico benefits, New Jersey benefits, and when New Jersey benefits, Puerto Rico benefits.
Increasing those ties can only help.
ROI: You’re charged with producing a report after the first year. What’s your goal on Day One?
JL: A year from now, I think we’ll be able to say, ‘This is the roadmap, this is what we learned, this is our strategy.’ With other relationships, I can tell you, ‘This is the why and this is how we’re doing it.’
Right now with Puerto Rico, I can tell you the why, but I can’t tell you how.
ROI: The good news is that you’ll have plenty of help figuring it out, started with Anastos.
JL: Peggy is a legend in the Puerto Rican community. She has advised multiple Puerto Rican governors and multiple New Jersey governors when it comes to Puerto Rican relations. I’m humbled that I get to share a spot with Peggy.
And we have a lot of other amazing commission members, too. It’s a really cool, diverse set of folks, from lawyers to elected officials, faith leaders to business owners to chamber leaders. It’s folks who have been fighting the good fight for Puerto Rico. Some will be very focused on the cultural side, and some will be much more focused on the on the business development. It’s a great mix.
ROI: Last question: For those who don’t know, give us your connection to the island.
JL: My mother was born in Puerto Rico. My father was born in Dominican Republic. So, I’m first-generation born in America, but there is a lot of family lineage in Puerto Rico. I still have a significant amount of family in Puerto Rico.
- Co-chair: Peggy Anastos
- Co-chair: Jose Lozano
- Will Borke
- Tonio Burgos
- Humberto Cuadrado
- Carmen Gandulla
- Carmen Garcia
- Eddie Gonzalez
- Samuel Kanig
- Adalberto Lopez
- Francisco Maldonado-Ramierez
- Carlos Medina
- Gulaberto Medina
- Ivette Mendez
- Arianna Moure
- Rosemarie Moyeno Matos
- Ray Ocasio
- Evelyn Padin
- Tanya Pagan Raggio
- Luis Quintana
- Anibal Ramos Jr.
- Daniel Rivera
- Javier Robles
- The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez
- Kim Ruiz
- John Sanchez
- John Santana
- Lino Santiago
- Lydia Valencia
In addition, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) appointed Sens. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) and Declan O’Scanlon (R-Holmdel) to the commission, while Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) appointed Assemblywomen Yvonne Lopez (D-Perth Amboy) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit).