Let There Be Light

Tuesday March 20, 2018 | Filed under:

I travel a lot in my job as CEO of ASI. Since the start of the year, I’ve been to ASI shows in Orlando and Dallas, the PSI show in Düsseldorf, the British Promotional Merchandise Association show and the Gold Coast Promotional Products Association tabletop show in Florida, home to 2,400 distributor, supplier and decorator member companies.

Every visit is worthwhile, but some are really special. I was particularly proud to be the keynote speaker at the Caribbean Advertising Specialties Association annual trade show (CASA) in Puerto Rico. I have close friends whose families live on the island, so my heart has been with everyone who suffered through the disaster and long, slow, difficult months of recovery.

While families and businesses in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean also suffered tremendous loss from last fall’s unprecedented three hurricanes, Puerto Rico was hit the hardest. As the New York Times recently reported, more than 10,000 small businesses on the island remain closed and about 145,000 still have no electricity.

Think about that: Six months without power. Generators, if you’re lucky enough to find gas. Not being able to clean up or shower. Full darkness after sunset. Your business shuttered. A blue tarp covering your roof. No refrigeration. No AC. Packed ERs, since so many urgent care and doctor offices remain closed.

For too many, this is daily life. For six months and counting.

During my visit, CASA President Silvia González, who is as warm and welcoming as they come, shared her personal experience with me, and in a recent Counselor story. Hurricane Maria forced her from her home and she spent the past months working from the mainland as best she could – a herculean task since buying promo products was the last thing on the minds of most of her clients back in Puerto Rico.

Before I left, I was presented with a gift of beautiful artwork by a Puerto Rican artist that declares the island will rise and recover. The gesture brought me to tears. I hope it’s true, but the road to recovery is long.

I was happy to spend much-needed tourist dollars and to see first-hand how people in our industry and beyond are faring (there are 99 ASI-listed promo companies on the island). Tourism, which the Times says accounts for about 6% of the island’s economy and supports more than 60,000 jobs, is all but gone for this season, except in parts of bustling San Juan. In a beautiful capital city founded in 1521, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I urge you to go and help the economy.

Yes, there are fully functioning hotels and restaurants. In many places, you wouldn’t even know a hurricane had hit.

Outside the city centers, however, it’s a different story. The most optimistic estimate is that Puerto Rico faces a two-year economic recovery – if it can rebuild its power grid. When Maria struck, the struggling island went from natural disaster to full-blown economic disaster in a few short days.

Last fall, ASI spearheaded a disaster relief fund drive, raising a total of nearly $100,000 for impacted communities across the South. To help those in Puerto Rico, the money we raised was donated to the Red Cross and Save the Children’s Hurricane Maria Children’s Relief Fund.

But so much more can be done.

Please keep everyone in your thoughts and, if you haven’t already, consider donating to the organizations helping everyone with basics we all take for granted. It’s clear the federal government must also do more to help our fellow Americans, so also consider writing to your representatives. Whatever you do, it can’t be done soon enough.

The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1.