On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Its 155 mph winds and heavy rains killed an estimated 2,975 people on the island and left more than one million without power. The storm’s damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure made it the costliest in Puerto Rico’s history. Over the past year, Puerto Rico and the industry companies and employees located there have worked to recover, rebuild and move forward.

“Being in Puerto Rico during the hurricane was an impactful experience,” says Marilyn Meléndez, CAS, a marketing and sales executive with distributor United Forms & Graphics and vice president of the Caribbean Advertising Specialties Association (CASA). “There was so much uncertainty—social, welfare, health, the economy—but like everything, life happens. A year after María, I’ve seen things changing slowly but steadily. Businesswise, customers want promotional products to advertise their companies, products and services. They also wish to thank their employees for their effort and dedication. In my opinion, the fastest growing industries right know are construction, communication, tourism and automotive, and yes, we are open for business!

Today, reports out of Puerto Rico show that recovery from Maria is not evenly distributed, with the larger population centers like San Juan and Ponce rebuilding quicker than some outlying, rural areas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved more than 460,000 loan applications with $1.4 billion in direct assistance to Puerto Ricans. However, the commonwealth’s government estimates rebuilding from Maria will take $139 billion, with $33 billion for housing alone.

“A year after Maria, we still have 45,000 houses with a tarp on their roof, and more than 3,000 businesses closed because of damage to their structure and they’re still waiting for insurance payments to come in,” says Jerry Delgado, MAS, with The Vernon Company. “Many of the businesses that have reopened, even the big ones like Walmart, have done so with fewer employees. However, over the past few months we’re getting back to a ‘normal business environment.’”

He ads, “August and September have been very good for promotional products, because 75 percent of the buyers are buying for the Christmas season. In my case, I had an increase of 35 percent over 2017, but in the last quarter of that year we were without electricity, internet and phones. Also, I sell commercial printing and sales are up 57 percent, as companies that lost forms during Maria are replacing them. Hopefully, the last three months of 2018 will be better.”

Manolo Saldaña, owner of distributor iDeal Promo Source and past president of CASA, says, “Some people have left the island or are simply struggling to get their companies up and running again, but there are opportunities to do business in Puerto Rico, especially for our industry. Our people are strong and doing whatever they have to get up again as soon as possible.

“Now is our time”, he adds. “Promotional products say ‘thanks,’ and are lifting people’s hope for a better Puerto Rico. You can see the smile in the face of a customer or employee when they receive a t-shirt, a cap, a tumbler or simply a pen. Some people lost everything and are grateful for what they receive. And companies with big payrolls have created programs to help employees out with their families and homes, and still to this day, one year later, those programs are still alive.

He says that in general, the economy is rising, companies are up and running stronger than before, and that new opportunities have been created over the past year. “My wife lost her job because of Hurricane Maria, and she’s already working with a new company she created and has three customers. She’s working hard to get more, and I know she’ll get them. The opportunities for business are out there, you just have to reach for them. There remain a lot of challenges, but who has achieved success without a bit of sweat?”