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Guest MINDSETTER™ Larry Girouard: RI Business Climate Too Cold for Failed Tagline

Wednesday, April 06, 2016


Last week the Governor stated that we, the citizens of Rhode Island, are too negative. When you read the headlines that have dominated the new cycles over the 12 months, and much longer, it is difficult to be optimistic about Rhode Island, the state that we all love.

Actually I believe that Rhode Islanders could have embraced “cooler and warmer” if there was some foundation around this tag line that had some meaning. While they certainly missed the boat by pushing this PR campaign from the top down onto the electorate and not involving the ample resources within Rhode Island, my concern was more on what the words were intended to mean.

I read that “warmer” meant a warm and friendly environment by the people and the business community. I will go back to my default position -- last year, the Governor stated in her inaugural address that “Rhode Island is 49th among states where companies want to do business and dead last in supporting entrepreneurs."

That is not very “warm” in my book.

Where's the beef?
It is beyond comprehension that leadership can base the foundation of its PR campaign on business friendliness without demonstrating its resolve to actually move the needle on our abysmal and pathetic business friendly national rating. People and companies do not move to a state just because of a slick PR campaign.  As Clara Peller in that old commercial use to say, "Where’s the beef?”
Without leadership demonstrating their resolve to rejuvenate our state’s business culture by passing some laws like the line item veto, ethics and others, no one will take Rhode Island seriously. When leadership wastes their valuable, and very limited time, on pinecone drippings, requiring business owners to give 2 week notification to change work schedules, ramrodding through the anti-business toll bill, etc, you get the picture that business friendly change will be painfully slow to the peril of our state. “Warmer” might be a vision, but it is a long way from reality.
“Cooler and Warmer?” If we had a vibrant business community that brought Providence and other municipalities to life, we would have a spectacular capital city along with other venues that would actually be hip, energized and cool. Businesses that needed to be located on the east coast would want to move to Rhode Island because it would be easy to do business in our state. If that was the culture, or the evolving culture, then “cooler and warmer” would work. It does not work because the explanation of what “cooler and warmer” means has nothing to do with the reality of Rhode Island.  As a result, the tag line falls flat.

RI Needs Change Before Being Cooler and Warmer

Rhode Island leadership must develop the culture where “cooler and warmer” has real meaning before any excitement can be generated.  Now there will be ideas coming forth over the next 4-6 weeks for better tag lines.  One that was recently mentioned, Rhode Island: Sea to Believe, is an excellent example. That said, none will really create excitement because we do not have a supportive state culture that will drive any tag line. Rhode Island’s brand is too tarnished to be resurrected by just a PR campaign. The electorate has been beaten down by the decisions of leadership and this is where much of the negativity comes from.
The $1M question on the table, and at the water cooler is, "What change is leadership going to drive to make Rhode Island a “cooler and warmer” place to live, have a business, and raise our children? What change has happened over the last year and what change is before the general assembly in this year’s session that will help realize this vision?"

The items that could send out a message that leadership is serious about the Rhode Island brand, and that real change is actually happening, are being “held for further study," while tolls, gambling and pot seems to move forward with relative ease as leadership appears to covet all sources of new revenue to feed their obsessive spending habits.
I believe that “cooler and warmer” would have worked, if it really meant something tangible that the citizens of Rhode Island could actually get excited about. Leadership has not demonstrated any resolve to make the really tough decisions to correct Rhode Island’s course.

In the face of this reality, it is difficult not to be negative.

Larry Girouard is the past President of RI Taxpayers.

Videowall courtesy of Matthew/flickr


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