The following op-ed was written by Erin Donovan Boyle Executive Director, Newport County Chamber of Commerce
On November 6, we have an opportunity to make a strategic investment in higher education in our state and in our local economy by voting to approve ballot Question 2.
Approval of ballot Question 2 would authorize $70 million to build new facilities and renovate existing facilities at the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Campus, home to URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) and at Rhode Island College’s Feinstein School of Education and Human Development. The Newport County Chamber of Commerce sees these investments as an incremental step toward continuing the progress our economy has made, and important for the future of our local economy and talent development.
URI’s GSO is one of the premiere oceanographic institutions in the country and indeed the world. GSO’s research and prestige has significantly bolstered industry clusters that are important to our local economy such as the maritime defense industry and the beckoning blue economy sector that has so much potential in Newport and Bristol Counties. Question 2 would authorize $45 million to enhance the Bay Campus by constructing a new ocean technology center, which will create space for public-private partnerships in the blue economy and marine industries to intersect with GSO’s cutting-edge research and ocean engineering disciplines. In addition, it will construct a new pier that will berth a research vessel awarded to GSO by the National Science Foundation valued at over $125 million.
URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus with GSO, the Department of Ocean Engineering, and facilities for the College of the Environment and Life Sciences has generated nearly $350M of research funding in the last ten years, and it is anticipated that it will generate over $1 billion more in the next 30 years. These are dollars that go directly into jobs and our local economy. Question 2 will help align Rhode Island perfectly to take maximum advantage of these funding opportunities.
In addition, it is difficult to envision Rhode Island’s economy moving forward without making an overdue and appropriate investment in educating our children. Rhode Island College’s Feinstein School of Education and Human Development is the leading producer of teacher certificates in the state, yet Horace Mann Hall, the main building that our future teachers learn in, hasn’t seen significant upgrades in nearly a half century. Obviously, much has changed in the classroom in fifty years, and to better teach our students in a modern day classroom, we need to prepare our future teachers in modern day facilities. With many baby boomer teachers scheduled to retire over the course of the next decade, we have the tremendous task of developing the next generation of educators who must be ready to educate our students in an ever evolving technologically advanced environment. Approval of Question 2 would authorize $25 million to completely renovate RIC’s Horace Mann Hall, providing state-of-the-art facilities and technology that will prepare our children’s teachers to enter today’s classroom, leading to better educational outcomes for Rhode Island students.
While the case for support of both of these initiatives can certainly be made, Rhode Islanders should ensure that these large investments provide some information on ROI upon completion.
Rhode Islanders should agree to support these types of infrastructure investments if indeed it leverages more investment through an influx of research dollars and private sector interest, improves educational and teacher performance, increases career opportunities for the graduates of these programs and expands jobs in the local economy. With more years of funding required to support these infrastructure projects at our state institutions of higher education, it is more important than ever to articulate how these bond referendums are impacting the state for the long-term, specifically, how infrastructure investment results in attraction and retention of businesses and talent in our area.
On November 6, we hope that voters will join us in supporting this important ballot question. A vote in support of Question 2 is an important vote in support of our future workforce and a thriving economy.