The Rhode Island Foundation and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation have released a new economic action agenda developed by hundreds of community and business leaders through the Make It Happen initiative to address job creation and industry growth through marketing opportunities.
“You came to a collision space. That was the idea of this,” said Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Foundation, in his remarks to the 300-plus crowd in the Rhode Island Convention Center last Thursday.
Compiled by Fourth Economy Consulting, the 117-page “Economic Intersections of Rhode Island” report boils down the ideas generated during 20 Make It Happen workshops. During the workshops, which took place over three months, more than 200 leaders from the private sectors discussed unique marketing opportunities available within the state.
“This was not think-tank speak. This was not people in different positions in government or in the private sector by themselves saying this is what needs to be done,” said Steinberg, who created the Make It Happen initiative to provide private sector input in the economic development process. “This was the private sector, the non-profit sector presenting to the public sector.”
The report provides recommendations in five areas aimed at creating jobs and growing industries in the state. The five areas are increasing the impact of competitive advantages, promoting emerging opportunities, supporting intersections and connectivity, building capacity and business ecosystem and supporting the talent pipeline.
According to Steinberg, those in the private, public and non-profit sector should now take these recommendations and bring them to action.
“One of my favorite observations is that we always say they’re gonna do it,” said Steinberg. “Well guess what, I’ve said it before, the them is us.”
Steinberg said the process to create the action plan stayed true to three principals: Be positive, look forward and, the most important one, take rhetoric to action.
“We can do anything even though we may not be able to do everything,” said Steinberg, acknowledging that not all 21 broad recommendations made in the report need to be done. They are simply opportunities that could be pursued.
“We have a lot here. And yes, there are challenges. Yes, there are barriers, but the whole mission of this is to go by them,” said Steinberg.
Some examples of the 21 broad recommendations include:
• Promoting access to water and marine-based business
• Strengthen the food value web to increase food-related jobs
• Develop an online communications infrastructure to promote collaboration within the private sector
• Support regulatory reform effots
• Develop the manufacturing talent pipeline
One area that is not addressed in this economic action plan: Taxes.
“Because over 20 sessions over three months, taxes didn’t come up,” said Steinberg. “When people want to build their business, small or large, they need talent, they need sales, they need innovation, they need a regulatory environment they can operate in.”
The “Intersections” report will also be used down the road to inform Governor Lincoln Chafee’s “RhodeMap RI” plan; during his opening remarks to the crowd, Chafee explained that the state was awarded a $1.9 million federal grant to come up with a plan for a sustainable state, addressing economic development, housing and growth center strategies.
“The Rhode Island Foundation stepped up and said we want to help with the economic development third of this project,” said Chafee. “We’re very, very grateful.”
The final RhodeMap RI plan needs to be completed by the end of this year.
“It’s very, very important for the future of our state,” said Chafee.
Steinberg believes the task of addressing economic development and unemployment cannot fall on the government alone.
“We all need to be part of getting those 50,000 back to work,” said Steinberg. “We need to all say it’s not acceptable to have the highest unemployment in the United States.”
According to Steinberg, the Make It Happen initiative began with three ultimate goals: To make sure the unemployment rate in R.I. is never higher than the national average, to raise the level of household income to be equal to Connecticut and Massachusetts, and to close the income, education and employment gaps that exist across demographics in the state.
After the report was presented, individuals from initiatives and organizations that came out of the initial Make It Happen workshop in September 2012 came forward to show how they have been successful in their efforts to improve the economic climate in Rhode Island or the work done in their specific fields.
“This is the fun part, this is the exciting and inspiring part,” said Steinberg.
The 23 speakers were from initiatives such as the Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s Go Green Partnership, DESIGNxRI, Rally RI, MedMates and many more.
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Speaker of the House Gordon Fox both attended the afternoon presentation, along with other government leaders, including Chair of the Board of Education Eva Mancuso, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and Director of Environmental Management Janet Coit, as well as a number of mayors and other state leaders.
Steinberg called on these leaders as well as the business leaders in the room to take the lead and bring some of these ideas to light.
“This is an action plan that we all own,” said Steinberg.
Paiva Weed addressed similarities in the ultimate goal of the Make It Happen initiative and the Senate’s Rhode to Work action plan announced last week. During his remarks, Steinberg referred to Rhode to Work as one of the best plans to address unemployment he has seen in a long time.
“Addressing the skills gap and improving Rhode Island’s economy are goals shared by the Senate and the Rhode Island Foundation. Neil Steinberg joined us last week as the Senate unveiled its ‘Rhode to Work’ legislative action plan, and I was pleased to join the Foundation as they continue in their complementary efforts to move the economy forward,” said Paiva Weed in a statement. “Addressing the jobs crisis and improving Rhode Island’s economy will require many partners, and the Rhode Island Foundation is helping to bring those partners together and ‘Make it Happen.’”
Speaker Fox, who has made economic development a priority for this legislative session, was energized by the action plan.
“I was extremely impressed with the great turnout and the interest shown by business and government leaders toward embracing ideas that will help to move our state’s economy forward,” said Fox in a statement. “This is an exciting collaborative effort and many worthy ideas were discussed. The key now from a legislative perspective is to prioritize these suggestions and create legislation that will enhance workforce development and spark economic growth.”
According to Steinberg, the key now is to take action and follow through with some of the ideas within this plan.
“It’s only a report, it’s only another meeting if we let it be that way. We need to just do it,” said Steinberg.