By Nick Brown
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) - Puerto Rico’s annual investment summit, a two-day conference to woo investors to the bankrupt U.S. territory and the first since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, sported some new faces, particularly from the fast-growing cryptocurrency world.
The ranks of attendees and panelists on Monday were notably light on traditional mainstays, such as hedge fund creditors that hold the island’s $71.5 billion in debt.
Filling in some of the gaps were cryptocurrency investors, including Michael Terpin, who told the crowd at the Puerto Rico Convention Center he was the first from the crypto world to move to the island in 2016.
Terpin, who also runs a public relations firm that works with cryptocurrency investors, said the industry is keen to take advantage of tax breaks under Puerto Rico’s Acts 20 and 22 that benefit wealthy job creators who move to Puerto Rico from other jurisdictions.
“I hate it when I hear a talented person has to leave Puerto Rico because there’s no jobs here,” Terpin said. “We are bringing jobs.”
Puerto Rico is battling the largest bankruptcy in U.S. government history, $120 billion in combined pension and bond debt, and the effects of Hurricane Maria, its worst natural disaster in 90 years which killed dozens and decimated an already-weak infrastructure in September.
About 50 cryptocurrency entrepreneurs have relocated to Puerto Rico over the last year or two, and Terpin said he predicts that number will rise to 500 in the next 12 months. The island will host three separate cryptocurrency conferences over the next six weeks.
Speaker Brock Pierce, co-founder of Blockchain Capital, a venture capital firm investing in blockchain-enabled technology, said Puerto Rico has the mix of entrepreneurial spirit and tax benefits to make it an attractive launch pad for a what he views as a digital currency revolution.
“We leave the pilot phase” in 2018, Pierce said. "We’ve been connecting all the dots, getting all the pieces in place. This is the year when scalability hits, when big ideas become possible.”
(Reporting By Nick Brown; Editing by Daniel Bases)