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What Rhode Island Can Do to Move the Economy Forward

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


It's high season for business expos and conferences in Rhode Island. Can they help move the RI economy forward?

The Rhode Island economy has been showing signs of progress as of late -- and over the course of the next several weeks, a number of groups in the state will be hosting workshops, summits, expos, and conferences addressing various facets of the business and innovations sectors, looking to provide an intersection of brainpower and initiative to propel the state forward.

Currently, unemployment numbers are near the lowest they've been since 2009, and indicators show that the housing market is warming up, with the Rhode Island Association of Realtors recently announcing that single family home sales rose 22 percent in July over the previous year.

However, July's unemployment rate at 8.9% was third highest in the country, indicating that Rhode Island still has a ways to go

GoLocal talked with these organizations as well as economic and community leaders to learn more both about their initiatives -- and asked them what it will take, in their opinion, to further Rhode Island's economy.

Innovation, Meet Business

Saul Kaplan

Saul Kaplan, former Director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, and founder of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), will be hosting the 9th Annual BIF Summit on September 18 and 19. "It's more of a community than an event," said Kaplan.

Kaplan started BIF in 2005 with a mission to "enable collaborative innovation...and create a real world laboratory for innovators to explore and test new business models and system level solutions in areas of high social importance including health care, education, entrepreneurship, and energy independence."

"From a Rhode Island perspective, it's important to note that convening this conversation is positive and proactive," said Kaplan. "All the cynicism, and negativity we see here in Rhode Island...this is focused on improving the community."

The two day community gathering will feature over 400 people, the assemblage of which Kaplan describes at a "random collision of unusual suspects."

"We believe that the biggest opportunities are in the grey areas between silos, between industries," said Kaplan, noting that the social media conversation between innovators was already underway at #BIF9 on Twitter. "How many meetings do you know are already underway before they place?" quipped Kaplan, noting that there limited tickets available still.

The 21st Century screams for transformation," said Kaplan. "If we're going to improve communities, we need to experiment with an entirely new approach."

Design Made Local

GoLocal spoke with Andy Cutler about the upcoming A Better World by Design summit taking place September 27 to 29, who noted, "First and foremost, we're a conference of do-ers."

According to the website, the annual conference "brings a global community of innovators to Providence, Rhode Island to reach across disciplines and unite under a common goal: building a better world."

Cutler noted, "This year, we're going be covering, 'The Policy of Design' as one of the topics. We have to be able to take the dialogue and do something with it."

"Last year, Better World attracted college students from 32 colleges to come in, for 3 days. People are coming here organically -- who they meet, what they see, is really important," said Cutler.  "This year, university students will be coming from Stanford...as far as Brazil, Copenhagen -- we've become a nexus of conversation for design. We're attracting people here. I've heard from folks who inquire about living here."

"Mayor Taveras will be there for kick-off, but are our other leaders willing to dive into this pool? They need to be here," said Cutler, who mentioned he'd reached out to Mayor James Diossa of Central Falls in particular. "If they're willing to implement it, we're here to discuss and design it. "

Talking about what people can expect at the conference, Cutler said "The presentations are about how you get things done, not just what it "is" -- we need to know how to implement them."

Getting Things Started

On October 18, the city will be host to the now 3rd Annual Startup Weekend Providence.  

"What startups can do to any city, state and economy is bring together people from varied backgrounds such as myself and get us all working together in a single direction," said Sergio Ferreira, who was an integral part of last year's startup weekend, which was held at Johnson and Wales University.

"You will find that the startup community here in Providence is amazing we are all behind each other, helping each other to get to the next level. We see with each new startup making it to the next level it only helps promote Providence more and making it a place to be for startups," Ferreira continued.  

This year, the weekend will be hosted by Betaspring, which bills itself as a "mentorship-driven startup accelerator program for technology and design entrepreneurs who are ready to launch a company and change the world."

Melissa Withers with Betaspring told GoLocal that the Startup Weekend was an "important part of pipeline development" for the state.

"It raises the bar for what it means to explore an entrepreneurial idea," said Withers. "It's a great training opportunity. You get students from different colleges working together."

Withers mentioned that Betaspring's upcoming Hardware Hackathon was another example of how Providence was positioning itself.

"It demonstrates what we have an important infrastructure here," said Withers. "People come from all over New England. It creates more connections on the network. It's celebratory, fun, and puts gas in the fire."

State Business on Display

The Secretary of State's Office in conjunction with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporations is hosting the 7th Annual "We Mean Business" Expo today, September 10, in Warwick.

The mission of We Mean Business is to "connect Rhode Island business owners with local, state and federal agencies as well as the non-profit resources that impact their business."

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis' spokesperson Raina Smith told GoLocal, "Our annual “We Mean Business” expo is a valuable tool to talk one-on-one with governmental agencies, participate in valuable seminars and get advice and questions answered on growing or opening up a business.

"We’ve also designed innovative technological support where business entities can handle their filings online, you can open up a business via our nationally recognized Quick Start Program and we have an online chat where your questions can be answered by our Corporations Staff during business hours," she continued.  

Smith noted that in the first six months of 2013, there were 3,815 "new business formations" in the state.

Jerri Cantone, with Jerri Moone Cantone Photography, said that attending the Expo had prompted her to start her own business. "I'd been thinking of doing it for a while. About a year after I went to my first Expo, I decided to get my business license, and the [Secretary of State's] office couldn't have been more helpful."

Education Cited as Key

URI Distinguished Professor of Business Edward Mazze to GoLocal what he thought were the three things the state could be doing right now -- or in the near future -- to improve Rhode Island's economy.

"Support education at all levels. Recruiting and retaining the "best of the best" as teachers/professors. Investing in educators by providing them with technology and support for them to prepare the workers/citizens of the future," said Mazze.

He continued, "Have a realistic vision of economic development for the state. Taking advantage of the state's strengths - our location, the sectors in which the state is strong (hospitality, education, financial services, health services, business and professional services.) The strength of the state is also its small businesses - make it easier for them to operate so that they can compete on a level playing field."

Finally, "Simplify and reduce the size of government, we need a smaller number of towns/cities, school superintendents, fewer legislators. Reduce structural deficits by having a better budgeting/forecasting system. Stop reorganizing economic development as a "feel good" activity. Start using metrics to determine if economic development is working or just a buzz term," Mazze instructed.  

Kate Brewster with the Economic Progress Institute echoed Mazze in emphasizing the role of education in economic development., saying that necessary moves need to be undertaken included, "Improving access to early childhood learning by continuing planned expansions of pre-kindergarten classrooms and maintaining expansions of affordable, quality child care; increasing the number of Rhode Islanders who obtain high school equivalency diplomas, this includes helping them to meet the new test requirements and fees; and increasing investments in adult education, including basic literacy, math, and English Language Services for non-native speakers."




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We can change our political leaders......I guess we're stuck here forever.

Comment #1 by pearl fanch on 2013 09 10

After reading these "expert" opinions, RI is doomed. They are the perfect definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Lower the sales tax to a rate much lower than the neighboring states. At a minimum, bring it to 2% so people will BUY in the state and not go elsewhere.

Eliminate all the anti-business fees and laws which strangle local businesses from expanding and hiring more people.

Privatize everything done by public unions. No more politicians in the union bosses' pockets.

Combine all the school districts in four or less. Eliminates all the redundant administration jobs that suck the money out of the tax base. Might want to hire more LEO instead of useless middle management?

TERM LIMITS for every office - this will help stop the constant stream of career criminals in the general assembly who steal from tax payers to hand out candy to obtain votes.

Tax the colleges and universities who have exemptions but sap the resources of the cities. If the city services are privatized, these schools can be handed a bill to pay!

Most of all, stop voting for the same liberal Democrats you moronic RI residents.


Comment #2 by Killary Klinton on 2013 09 10

Business owners can be very positive as we are all looking to get better, be more productive and grow. After the enthusiasm from these meeting wears off it is back to reality of the state is NOT in the business of developing a business friendly infrastructure, hence, we locate to states that have more to offer or ultimate goal of growth.

Comment #3 by Gary Arnold on 2013 09 10

For a more detailed explanation of the unemployment situation; Go to http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t15.htm Note that the National " U6 " level of unemployment for AUGUST 2013 is THIRTEEN POINT SEVEN PER CENT...(13.7%)...(R.I. is HIGHER>>>)...Also; go to http://www.bls.gov/lau/stalt.htm Scroll down to "Rhode Island " U6 Unemployment rate; Second Quarter(April-June)2013: FIFTEEN POINT NINE PER CENT (15.9%)....

Comment #4 by Jon Polis on 2013 09 10

Isn't it interesting that EngageRI, that gang of cowards who won't reveal their identities but who are content to steal retiree pension COLA's thru their proxy, broke up this week? And not a word in the media? Nothing on projo, 12 or Channel 10?

Didn't EngageRI form to promote business? Their codpiece who announced the breakup - in the face of the looming court decision from which they seem to be fleeing - said that looting of the COLA's to hand over to hedge fund crooks was 'appropriate'.

Spoken like a true snot-nosed arrogant Elite. Turns out hedge funds are in turn investing in loanshark 'payday loan' fronts, according to Ted Siedle.

This is what EngageRI was all about, looting and self-aggrandizement at the expense of retirees. And now, when the state is in need of business acumen, this supposed gang of business 'leaders' breaks up and runs like a scalded rat?

Having stolen retiree COLA's thru its aparat, it arrogantly announces, 'mission accomplished' and breaks up to avoid liability in the coming court decision?

Apparently, the sole mission of EngageRI was to loot retirees, smear their good name, and line its pockets and those of its hedge fund cronies.

Mission accomplished? Yes indeed, so long as the mission is looting the public trust to line private silk pockets.

And they wonder why nothing changes?

Comment #5 by paul zecchino on 2013 09 10

first good step is that chafee is out!

Comment #6 by anthony sionni on 2013 09 10

You can put every East Side intellectual you can find at a meeting, nothing will be done in this state until the democrats do something at the legislative level. Think-tank, artsy get-togethers aren't going to do anything.

Comment #7 by David Beagle on 2013 09 10

Eliminate Public sector unions and make RI a right-to-work state. This will reduce taxes and make RI a more attractive state to both live and do business.

Comment #8 by Mike Govern on 2013 09 10

Enact a 'Voter Initiative' so that Rhode Island voters can place questions on the ballot. Such as:

Term Limits

Real Property Tax Caps

Become a Right to Work State

Make Taxpayer Approval of Any Bonds the law whether by the State or a Quasi State Agency

Comment #9 by Jim D on 2013 09 10

Mike Govern and Jim D are right on.

Term Limits

Become a Right to Work State

Voter Initiative so that voters can put propositions on the ballot

Cut spending department by department

Lower the Sales Tax and eventually eliminate it

Real Property Tax Caps (even NY State did this)

Comment #10 by James Berling on 2013 09 10

Seeing Brewster largely agree with Mazze points out the problem. Brewster supports outright ,the antiquated and inefficient and proven failure of our traditional public education system. Rhode Island is on the leading edge of Union protectionism that will end in certain defeat. Education in Rhode Island will be turned on its head and placed back into the real world because private sector competition is about to blow the whole system out of the water. The current great teachers will thrive and the many bad teachers and dead wood administrators will suffer , as they should. The faster this transition happens in Rhode Island the better it will be for the State as a whole. We can not thrive as businessmen by "retraining" students who haven't even learned the basics. We cant teach people about finances when they are 18..this has to happen much earlier. We can not graduate students that cant read or do even simple math. I personally cant wait until the private sector competition puts education back on the "fast track" because it will be integral to Rhode Islands future.

Comment #11 by michael riley on 2013 09 10

Agree we should eliminate many of the above but it will not happen unless a new mind set comes into place in RI that invests in BUILDING a business friendly infrastructure. We NEED new business to facilitate any cuts in the taxes and labor reform. If there is no plan to develop this business friendly infrastructure then we will NOT change NOR will RI come out of it's depression. So we have to change the law makers in the GA and revolt against the union grip on any brain matter that can help us to work out of this mess. I personally don't think it is possible in RI.

Comment #12 by Gary Arnold on 2013 09 10

@James Berling,

Nothing will happen till voters get Voter Initiative so we the voters can put questions on the ballot.

This is the only way RI will ever be changed.

I'd wager you could get 200,000 signatures from people if this was explained to them.

The legislature would fight this tooth and nail. I believe this came up 10-12 years ago and was quietly killed. The media is complicit with killing it.

Comment #13 by Jim D on 2013 09 10

KK, you are absolutely right. You have the plan!...and just like the article a few days ago said, the only state to GAIN net income last year was New Hampshire. Just do what they do; no sales tax, no income tax, no liberals.

Comment #14 by joe pregiato on 2013 09 10

I meant to say, "only state in New England"...also add to that list; no powerful unions.

Comment #15 by joe pregiato on 2013 09 10

Mazze is correct, but the changes he advocates for require courage from elected officials. Does anyone see any evidence of that from anyone at the local or state level but Raimondo? The General Assembly's agenda is short on achievable solutions and long on business as usual.

Comment #16 by Bob Shea on 2013 09 10

1. Right
2. To
3. Work

4. End government unions

Comment #17 by Odd Job on 2013 09 10

I certainly don't support so-called "Right to Work" or term limits. But I cannot grasp what this article has to say. Talk, I get that. So what else? A lot of words for no real message,

Comment #18 by John McGrath on 2013 09 11

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.