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RIEDC, Chafee meet with local businesses

March 8, 2012

Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks during a RIEDC meeting with South Kingstown businesses on Friday. Photo by Kathleen McKiernan

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Last Friday the South Kingstown business community had their chance to meet with the people who can help put their job plans to action and train Rhode Island’s skilled work force, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) and Governor Lincoln Chafee.

At the Palisades Mill Complex, a symbol of economic revival in South County, business owners spoke with the RIEDC on what the state is missing, what the state should do to return from its low rated economy and how the state agencies can help businesses thrive.

“Our goal is to help you develop your workforce. We have many people looking to become employed here. We’re looking to help you develop tools and incentives,” said Connie Parks of the Business Workforce Center, who encouraged the business owners to contact the EDC for support. “Just because someone doesn’t have exactly what you need, doesn’t mean they don’t have the raw skills.”

What benefits the RIEDC could bring to business owners, however, was overshadowed, by the governor’s early exit.

“It’s unfortunate the governor left. If you put something together, you’d think he’d stay to the end of it,” said Larry Fish, chairman of the South Kingstown Economic Development Committee. “It took the positivity away and left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. It’s unfair to the governor’s staff who had to take the wrath.”

Christine Huntsinger, spokeswoman for the governor, explained that Chafee had another scheduled event and his staff would be on hand to answer questions and report back to the governor.

The disappointment of the governor’s departure was only further festered by some business owners who feel ignored by the RIEDC.

“I’ve sent people to you and they say they’re not getting calls back. You guys are understaffed. Why aren’t you reaching out to us?” RI Nurseries said.

At the regional meeting, one of several across the state, business owners told the RIEDC what they need and hoped Chafee’s staff would report back to him.

“We know what we need to do to improve our ranking,” said Clay Johnson, chair of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. “It’s stunning that one 26 year old woman from Green Hill is bring more excitement to Rhode Island than economic development in Rhode Island. Economic activity needs to be central and involve everyone.”

To improve economic development, Johnson challenged the governor before he left to allow small businesses in Rhode Island to pay employees bi-weekly.

“It would cost the state zero money. Our businesses have a built in burden. It would require changing two to three words in the general statue,” Johnson said.

Bill Lawrence hoped the RIEDC would provide a summary of South County’s characteristics, including what are its unique attributes and what is happening in the region to discover where its economy is going and what it can offer.

RIEDC offered the community ways to get passed the permitting system and begin their goals.

“If you’re stuck in a system, we can help you get unstuck. We want to make it easier for businesses to do business,” Leslie Taito, Director of Regulatory and Quality Management at RIEDC said.

Taito said the department’s goal is to make sure “the cost of regulation doesn’t outweigh the benefit to the community,” which paired with Clay Johnson’s, Chairman of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, earlier statements that regulations make it difficult to do business.
Though much of Chafee’s promise to help cities and towns this year is garnered to support bankrupt-ridden municipalities like Providence, East Providence and Woonsocket, Chaffee said “the plight of our inner core cities has ramifications for every city and town.”

Yet, while the fate of the up-state cities receives the most attention, South Kingstown Town Councilman Jim O’Neill said South Kingstown is in an emergency situation.

“Over the last few decades, URI was massacred in state budgets by $30 to $40 million. What a resource and look how it’s treated,” O’Neill said with a loud applause behind him. “South County Hospital was taxed $1 million last year. The major two industries down here are put on the chopping block.”

With the governor proposing in January to raise the tax on rentals to 13 percent and increase the meals tax from eight percent to 10 percent, O’Neill said, “This is an absolute declaration of war laid on South Kingstown, South County and the tourism industry. How are small businesses supposed to survive? Where we need your services now is that everything proposed has to be off the table.”

While the governor’s proposal to raise the meals tax seems counter to economic development, Huntsinger said the $39.5 million generated from the tax hike will support education, including the skills gap and lack of trained workforce.

“Tough times call for tough choices. The dedication of the meals tax goes to education to prepare students for the skills needed. It’s marrying these two things together,” Huntsinger said.

Under the proposal, the meals and beverage tax will rise from eight percent to 10 percent to generate $39.5 million statewide.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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