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Brett Smiley: We Can Spur a True Providence Economic Renaissance

Friday, April 18, 2014


Providence has a long and proud history as an economic engine of the United States, leading the country in the manufacturing of base metals and machinery, jewelry and silverware, textiles and more for much of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. In 1867, the water tube boiler was invented and patented by Providence’s own George Babcock and Stephen Wilcox, and within twenty years it was used to power everything from Edison laboratories in New Jersey to President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet.”

However, like Babcock and Wilcox, much of our manufacturing base moved away or dwindled during the 20th Century. But this same kind of Providence-based ingenuity and entrepreneurial excellence once again can take hold in our city in the 21st Century. What Providence needs is a clear vision, leadership, and a plan to get there. Job creation and economic development will be a top priority in my administration. I spell out exactly what I am going to do and how I am going to get the job done in my recently released Jobs and Economic Development Plan.

When I was first appointed to Chair the Providence Water Supply Board, there was a significant issue with spiraling workers’ compensation costs. Providence Water had a culture in which accidents were too common and many sought to abuse the system, and I set out to change it. I restructured management and provided them with the guidance and support they needed, and together we created a culture in which employees were incentivized, managed and rewarded for excellence. As a result, Providence Water has now gone 650 days without a lost time accident in its most dangerous department and has reached unprecedented levels of productivity that saved businesses and families money while still providing the best water in the state.

My “Jobs and Economic Development Plan” is centered on the idea of changing the culture in City Hall in much the same way, creating a city government that facilitates job creation through better serving Providence businesses and new entrepreneurs. I will do so with emphasis on seven areas:

1) Making city government work for business by automating systems and eliminating inefficiencies.

2) Bolstering our “meds and eds” to create a base of steady jobs, trained employees, and lifelong residents.

3) Turning STEM into STEAM: Infusing our growing Knowledge Economy with the city’s arts and design.

4) Anchoring Providence’s working waterfront to the city’s economic growth.

5) ACT Providence: Promoting Providence’s arts, cultural, and tourism industries.

6) Advocating on behalf of the Greater Providence region

7) Supporting Providence’s neighborhood businesses.

I opened my small business in Providence seven years ago, and in the midst of an economic recession, I have grown my company, hired new employees, opened additional offices and turned a profit every year. I know what it takes to grow a business, and I know what it takes to grow a city. I’ll get it done, and I’ll do it with integrity and transparency above all else.

By focusing on Providence’s strengths – world-class hospitals and universities, homegrown, neighborhood businesses, arts, culture and design, a working waterfront and more – I will run a City Hall that supports the right businesses in the right ways.

Providence is on the brink of an economic renaissance. Many of the pieces are in place and poised for growth – strengths like our “meds and eds” that lay the foundation for future innovation; a vibrant, energized start-up community; an engaged foundation and non-profit community; committed, hard-working small business owners; and a trained, educated workforce that is ready to make a difference.

I’m ready to get working from Day One in order to make sure that the people of Providence can get working for many years to come.

Brett Smiley is running in the Democratic primary for Mayor of Providence. He is the founder and owner of a small, Providence-based accounting and election compliance firm. You can find his plan at www.smileyformayor.com .


Related Slideshow: 7 Strategies for Rhode Island Economic Development in 2014

What will it take to move the Rhode Island economy forward in 2014?  GoLocal talked with elected officials, candidates, and leaders for their economic development plans in the coming year. 

Below are key elements of the economic priorities for Governor Lincoln Chafee, Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, gubernatorial hopefuls General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Ken Block, and RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity's Mike Stenhouse.  

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Governor Lincoln Chafee

"My goal is to have the state continue to focus on the fundamentals.  We will invest in education, workforce development and infrastructure , and provide aid to  cities and towns to lessen the burden on property taxpayers.  I’m confident that these investments and our focus on the basics will allow Rhode Island to exceed Moody’s predictions.”
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Speaker Gordon Fox

"Among the many pieces of legislation the House will address will be issues of higher education affordability, expanding apprenticeship opportunities, and offering help to our manufacturers.  We will also look closely at our tax structure to make sure we are competitive with our neighboring states, including the corporate tax and the estate tax, and I will carefully review the recommendations of the commission studying our sales tax.”

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Senate Pres. Paiva-Weed

Greg Pare, spokesperson for the Senate President, said that the Senate is planning to issue recommendations soon on workforce development initiatives to address the skills gap among Rhode Island job seekers.

"An example of a proposal anticipated in that report is the elimination of state’s Indirect Cost Recovery on the Job Development Fund, which is about $1.2 million this year. Those funds would be directed towards job training and skills development programs to provide immediate impact and help workers gain the skills necessary to succeed in today’s economy."

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Gen. Treasurer Raimondo

"To grow our economy, we need to make Rhode Island a leader in manufacturing again.  Great things can happen at the intersection of government, higher education, and the private sector.  Rhode Island is lucky to have thriving institutions in each of these three sectors, and we need to foster collaboration among them to find solutions to our challenges, and spark our economy.  

By promoting partnerships in high-growth areas, [Rhode Island Innovation Institute] will help grow our manufacturing base, and create new, high-quality jobs."  

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Ken Block

"First, we need to fix Rhode Island’s broken Unemployment Insurance program. The state’s Unemployment Insurance tax, paid by employers, is ranked worst in the country by the Tax Foundation. It is one of the factors that makes Rhode Island an uncompetitive place to do business. Also, it is inherently unfair that a large group of businesses are effectively subsidizing the payrolls of a small group of businesses who misuse the system. There is a simple change to state law that can fix this problem."

"Rhode Island’s temporary disability tax (TDI) is broken, and places an unnecessarily high tax burden on Rhode Islanders. This tax, paid for by employees, will be reduced by changing the way we manage the program. As Governor, I will substantially reduce the cost of purchasing this insurance by requiring that Rhode Island’s program adhere to national norms."

"To best encourage new job creation, I propose the following tax incentive: exempt from future capital gains taxes any new investments in Rhode Island-based businesses. This change would create a powerful incentive for investors who are deciding where to locate a new business, or where they relocate an existing one. This proposal has the potential change the economic playing field for Rhode Island."

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Minority Leader Newberry

“It would be overly ambitious to set being #1 as a goal right now, but we think 25, the middle of the pack, is a reasonable goal to set, one we think we should pursue, and one we can achieve,” said Newberry. "One of the initiatives is a requirement that every bill receive a fiscal evaluation before it can be heard by committee, better insuring that legislators know the real cost of the legislation they are acting on."

"Another proposal would exempt social security income from RI state income tax, making Rhode Island more tax-friendly for our seniors and keeping them here rather than migrating to more tax-friendly states."

“Strong action is way overdue here. Nearly 60% of Rhode Islanders now believe that the state is headed in the wrong direction. We think they’re right, and our central goal is to get it turned around."

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Mike Stenhouse

"As part of the Center's 2014 Prosperity Agenda we recommended that the state:
Repeal or rollback of the state’s regressive sales tax; or the requirement that families have no choice on what schools best educate their children; or punitive estate taxes that drive wealthy people to other states; or restrictions on out-of-state companies to sell health insurance in RI; or the minimum franchise tax, which stifles entrepreneurship; or corporate welfare, to level the playing field; or even renewable energy mandates that drive up costs for every family and business …"

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8. Do whatever humanly possible to lower the back breaking, business UN-friendly tax burden in the city.

Comment #1 by David Beagle on 2014 04 18

Mr. Smiley, in all respect, your Jobs and Economic Development Plan is pathetic. Your emphasis seems to be on the arts. I too love the arts but Providence is by default already an Arts town. It might be fun for you to play with the arts community but it ain’t what we need.

If you really wanted to “spur a true Providence economic renaissance” you would have to tackle the real problem. You would have to do some heavy lifting.

Providence is known (famous) for being business unfriendly. It has the highest commercial tax rate in the region. Businesses and jobs have been fleeing for years. So here’s what you do:

Cut property taxes 10%. This would be very popular.

You say, “You’re dreaming how could you possibly do that?” See 2 below.

Cut spending 15% department by department. (not so popular) You call in the head of each department: Public Works, Schools, Police, Fire — everyone — and you say submit a budget that is 15% lower next year. Show me where you are going to cut. You then correct their budgets if they cut the essentials and keep all the waste. You fire them if they don’t cooperate.

It wouldn’t be fun. You might even get some death threats but you would turn the City around. Let the word would go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the City of Providence is on the mend. Taxes are starting to go down. Waste and corruption are being tackled.

Businesses would move back. They would hire more people. Eventually that would generate more revenue.

But that’s hard work. It would be more fun to hire some designer friend to make artsy banners for downtown.

Comment #2 by James Berling on 2014 04 18

True economic development begins when you progressive democrats stop importing more crime and poverty to Providence..When you decide to close the city's candy store of freebies to the undocumented then maybe we can move forward!

Comment #3 by LENNY BRUCE on 2014 04 18

I'm not sure his Providence Water Supply Board is such a completely positive sell, its annoying that they went from quarterly to monthly billing, thus each year tripling postage costs for both themselves and customers and tripling the time to be bothered with these bills.

Comment #4 by barry schiller on 2014 04 18

How u gonna spur economic growth?.. when all you commie progressives do is take from the working middle class taxpayers and give to your nonworking underclass supporters...is that your idea of economic growth?

Comment #5 by LENNY BRUCE on 2014 08 05

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