It has become clear, largely as a result of the 38 Studios debacle, that Rhode Island’s economic development efforts, its attempts to convince businesses to locate and grow in the Ocean State, are adrift and have been, for some time, highly ineffective.
While 38 Studios crystallized for many the fact that we are simply not doing a very good job of selling our state, that $75-million boondoggle is just one of a number of questionable decisions by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, the quasi-public agency whose mission is of paramount importance to the overall welfare of our state and all its citizens.
In recent weeks, the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Economic Development has heard testimony and received study reports calling for a refocusing and a re-energizing of our state’s economic development efforts. One presentation was by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, another by three highly respected individuals from the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island. Both recommend systemic changes in the way Rhode Island pursues economic growth. On Oct. 16 we will hear from the Rhode Island Foundation about the economic development ideas generated at its Make It Happen RI forum in September.
The joint committee, of which we are co-chairs, welcomes the thorough and thought-provoking presentations. They will be invaluable to the committee, which has met regularly and consistently the past year, collecting data and advice from numerous sources in an effort toward preparing legislation for the upcoming legislative session, legislation that will position the state for the greatest economic recovery in the shortest amount of time.
The anger and disappointment that followed the 38 Studios situation has opened the door to an honest discussion about how the state sets and carries out its economic development strategy. In reality, we can’t expect there to be a “silver bullet,” one idea that’s going to be the answer to all our prayers. We need collaboration by our state’s brightest thinkers, people who have experienced the hurdles facing small and large businesses, and people who have worked in economic development efforts and who know what helps and what doesn’t. We need government to be bold in how it moves forward.
Rhode Island has no greater challenge in the years ahead than to revitalize the economy. It has been the number one focus of the Senate for years and will continue to be, as we work to restore a strong and vibrant economy in Rhode Island. The Joint Committee on Economic Development remains fully invested in that effort and is eager to see the ideas that have been presented transformed into a winning formula for our state, a formula that improves the climate for business and helps create jobs for our citizens.
James C. Sheehan
Senator – District 36
Donna M. Walsh
Representative – District 36