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While Rhode Island is experiencing our lowest unemployment rate in more than a decade, our local and state economies are still fragile. We also have a $135 million budget shortfall, and if this continues, it will have an impact on the quality of services that citizens of Newport and Jamestown will receive. But as leaders, we need to do more than point out the flaws in the system; after all, identifying the problem is the easy part. As your next State Senator, here are the type of programs I would be sponsoring and supporting:
1) KEEP INVESTMENT FUNDS LOCAL: Let’s channel more of our economic development funds directly back into state coffers. In my opinion, it was not a prudent strategy for Commerce RI to direct 65% of the economic funds towards companies that are from outside of our state. I’ve experienced some of this frustration personally. As the CEO of an award-winning technical services company, I have met several times with members of Commerce RI, and was discouraged when I learned that they outsourced a $250,000 web development project to a firm in Arizona without even notifing us of the opportunity to bid on the project. As a business owner, I was perplexed and frustrated; as an elected official, I surmised that this couldn’t be the only isolated incident of our state’s own economic development agency overlooking a local company in favor of an out-of-state firm.
2) COMMERCIALIZATION OF RESEARCH: We need to improve the commercialization of research being conducted at Brown University, the Naval Undersea War Center, and other esteemed research institutions. While a substantial amount of funds are being dedicated towards research, this knowledge isn’t being converted commercially towards start-ups as compared to top universities in other states like Massachusetts. We need to explore ways that will help improve the commercialization of the research being conducted in these prominent institutions.
3) SOLOPRENEURS: Let’s create a statewide program that will help support, embrace, and cultivate individual contractors and business owners. These are individuals that are in business for themselves, and have no employees. They are web developers, designers, architects, and carpenters, to name just a few. It’s estimated that 40% of our workforce falls into this category. By 2020, that figure will rise to 50%. We need to build a state-wide grassroots community made up of these independent freelancers. In Santa Cruz, California, they’ve created such a platform; one that provides services, networking events, collaborative shared live/work spaces, and support groups. Today, Santa Cruz has one of the fastest-growing job markets in the nation.
4) FUTURE INDUSTRY JOBS: The 2016 Brookings Report “Rhode Island Innovates: A Competitive Strategy for the Ocean State” provided us with a series of recommendations to help lift and strengthen our economy. In short, we need to drive jobs that consist of future industries such as resiliency, green infrastructure, and information technology. During my tenure on the City Council, I have sponsored resolutions that have helped shape the policy of this project. The creation of these types of jobs will help our community evolve into a year-round economy with sustainable and well-paying jobs.
5) BRING DEVELOPERS AND ENGINEERS TO RI: This would be a variation of number 3. Why simply focus on attracting a 1000-2000 person division of a large company. Let’s work on developing a program that provides incentives for 1000-2000 independent, well paying contractors to come live in our state. These individuals work independently and not in a group setting. They are typically in their 20’s and 30’s and earn great pay working remotely. Let’s create shared work, living spaces that house these individuals and provide them with a collaborative working environment.
These are just several of the initiatives that I will help drive if elected. We have an opportunity to transform our economy in a very substantial way, but it’s going to take a leader with vision and a track record for getting things done — not simply someone that can point to our shortcomings.