Source: Restore Greater Newport

 A well-organized coalition of business, tourism, hospitality, manufacturing, and marine entities is calling on the General Assembly and the incoming McKee Administration to immediately enact measures to minimize the economic impacts of the Covid-19  pandemic and restore economic prosperity to the greater Newport region.

According to Erin Donovan- Boyle, executive director of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce and spokesperson for the Restore Greater Newport Task Force, the next 90 days will be some of the most critical for Rhode Island’s economy and the livelihood of business owners and residents. “We must adopt an economic recovery plan that specifically addresses actions that will build revenue momentum. While we have been working collaboratively for several months, we cannot continue to go it alone, nor can any single geographic region. Statewide support and assistance for our initiatives are critical if this region – and our state – is to successfully emerge from the devastation of the global pandemic.”

She continued, “While there is no denying the import the Newport hospitality, travel, and tourism industries have on our state’s economy, we recognize that our challenges are similar to those experienced in other regions of this small state. For that reason, it is imperative that the state take a holistic approach to economic revitalization. We hope the Restore Greater Newport task force might serve as a model for effective collaboration between statewide public and private entities.”

Restore Greater Newport is a coalition of private, public, and government entities working collaboratively since March of 2020 to minimize the impact of Covid-19. A key task force objective is to develop short-term programs to support business retention and longer-term efforts to mitigate the negative economic impacts of the coronavirus. The group is focused on accelerating recovery by leveraging the region’s tremendous assets (beaches, tourist destinations), and to be better prepared for future economic disruptions.

Members organizations in Restore Greater Newport Task Force include the Chamber, Discover Newport, the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance, the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, Polaris MEP.

“We all recognize quality of life is our greatest asset for talent attraction and business retention, so it was clear to us at the outset that all of our respective industries must work together to ensure the common goal of economic recovery,” noted Ms. Donovan-Boyle.

Specifically, the Task Force recommends the following action items:

1. Make permanent the Real Jobs RI program which provides support to industry-led partnerships to build demand-driven workforce solutions that  address unique workforce challenges affecting employers. With Real Jobs RI, industries identify existing critical workforce opportunities and related training, then partners with RIDLT to execute solution-based efforts. Given the significant number of displaced workers, this program provides the opportunity for un and under-employed residents to re-engage immediately in the workforce and help them get the re-training resources they need. 

“While we recognize the budget challenges facing the General Assembly this session, we call for Real Jobs RI to be made permanent and funded no lower than the current budget level,” said Wendy Mackie, representative of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association. “This critical jobs training program has created and sustained jobs in many industries, including marine, defense, manufacturing and hospitality sectors throughout the past 12 months and will be critical for Rhode Island’s job recovery and retention.” 

2. A one year pause on new legislation and regulations that would add increased costs, administrative burdens, or operational complexities for the small business community – including the hospitality industry – that would in any other way negatively impact industries during this critical recovery phase. 

“Said simply, now is not the time for costly new mandates. Many small businesses including restaurants, hotels and venues remain on the brink of closure, and an additional regulatory burden could push them over the edge,” noted Donovan-Boyle. “A one-year pause will allow the hospitality industry to focus on surviving the pandemic and rebuilding their operations going forward. It is also not the time to stifle other industries that are helping to carry us through this economic downturn.”

3. Develop and clearly communicate the reopening plan to tourism, hospitality and retail on what will be required to host events, weddings, and conferences.

“If we are to truly have a season this summer, our venues need clarity and guidance now on how they might re-open safely and efficiently. Predictability for the season is key,” commented Evan Smith, CEO of Discover Newport.

4. Identify state funding to support marketing activities to attract regional tourists.“Revenues generated from meals and hotels tax are down, which has resulted in an inability to spend the necessary dollars on tourism attraction, but as the vaccine roll-out commences, we must meet this moment with adequate planning for the upcoming tourism season. Guidance and financial assistance from RI Commerce Corporation is critical,” noted Mr. Smith.

5. Develop a coordinated effort to work with business associations, their company members and municipal leaders to assess immediate economic and infrastructure needs to aggressively pursue Federal stimulus funding.

“We believe there should be a real balancing act between allowing regionwide groups, such as ours, to direct their own stimulus allocations while still participating in a statewide discussion on the appropriation of much needed funds,” said Donovan-Boyle. “Our regional public-private partnership is best equipped to identify and implement the programs and projects that we need to accelerate recovery and deploy strategic development.”

6. Build on the success – and lessons learned – of the CARES Act of Rhode Island Commerce Corporation programs that were rolled out in 2020, and gear up for implementation of refined programming with new stimulus dollars anticipated in the next round of state and federal monies. 

According to Dale Venturini, President of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, this effort should include bringing together regional groups and intermediaries to support a Spring launch. “The roll-out of significant funding and grant programs in the last quarter of 2020 was a huge task for the state and there are some lessons learned about each of the programs that were implemented,” noted Ms. Venturini. “Prioritizing the programs that should be renewed or creating new ones to have more direct impact for the hardest hit small businesses is imperative. A dedicated revenue stream to support these initiatives will aid considerably, as would identification of statewide resources to produce and distribute supplies to help with reopening our economy.” 

The task force recommendations were made against a backdrop of some startling statistics also unveiled and include:

• Unemployment in the Greater Newport region was at 7.5% in December 2020—5,158 workers—compared to the 2019 rate of less than 3%.  

• Jobs in the Greater Newport region are highly concentrated in the Accommodation & Food and Arts, Entertainment, & Recreation sectors. These sectors, which have seen large impacts in the form of layoffs and closures due to COVID-19 restrictions, also have high levels of “economically vulnerable” workers—those who work part-time, make less than $40K a year, and/or are self-employed.

• Tourism is a key sector in the Greater Newport region that faces major risk:

• Monthly occupancy rates in Newport-area hotels at least 20% lower than 2019 rates since the start of the pandemic.

• Monthly meal and beverage tax collections down almost 24% in the greater Newport region from Q3 2019 to Q3 2020.

• Pell Bridge traffic only reached between 73% and 80% of prior year’s traffic since at least August.• Historic attractions attendance/revenue down as much as 80%. 

(Source for all statistics may be found at restoregreaternewport.com)

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