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SOUTH KINGSTOWN â 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 Islandâs 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.
âOur goal is to help you develop your workforce. We have many people looking to become employed here. Weâre looking to help you develop tools and incentives,â said Connie Parks of the Business Workforce Center, who encouraged the business owners to contact the EDC for support. âJust because someone doesnât have exactly what you need, doesnât mean they donât have the raw skills.â
What benefits the RIEDC could bring to business owners, however, was overshadowed, by the governorâs early exit.
âItâs unfortunate the governor left. If you put something together, youâd think heâd stay to the end of it,â said Larry Fish, chairman of the South Kingstown Economic Development Committee. âIt took the positivity away and left a bitter taste in everyoneâs mouth. Itâs unfair to the governorâs staff who had to take the wrath.â
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 governorâs departure was only further festered by some business owners who feel ignored by the RIEDC.
âIâve sent people to you and they say theyâre not getting calls back. You guys are understaffed. Why arenât you reaching out to us?â RI Nurseries said.
At the regional meeting, one of several across the state, business owners told the RIEDC what they need and hoped Chafeeâs staff would report back to him.
âWe know what we need to do to improve our ranking,â said Clay Johnson, chair of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. âItâs 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.â
To improve economic development, Johnson challenged the governor before he left to allow small businesses in Rhode Island to pay employees bi-weekly.
âIt 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,â Johnson said.
Bill Lawrence hoped the RIEDC would provide a summary of South Countyâs 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.
âIf youâre stuck in a system, we can help you get unstuck. We want to make it easier for businesses to do business,â Leslie Taito, Director of Regulatory and Quality Management at RIEDC said.
Taito said the departmentâs goal is to make sure âthe cost of regulation doesnât outweigh the benefit to the community,â which paired with Clay Johnsonâs, Chairman of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, earlier statements that regulations make it difficult to do business.
Though much of Chafeeâs promise to help cities and towns this year is garnered to support bankrupt-ridden municipalities like Providence, East Providence and Woonsocket, Chaffee said âthe plight of our inner core cities has ramifications for every city and town.â
Yet, while the fate of the up-state cities receives the most attention, South Kingstown Town Councilman Jim OâNeill said South Kingstown is in an emergency situation.
âOver the last few decades, URI was massacred in state budgets by $30 to $40 million. What a resource and look how itâs treated,â OâNeill said with a loud applause behind him. âSouth County Hospital was taxed $1 million last year. The major two industries down here are put on the chopping block.â
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, OâNeill said, âThis 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.â
While the governorâs 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.
âTough times call for tough choices. The dedication of the meals tax goes to education to prepare students for the skills needed. Itâs marrying these two things together,â Huntsinger said.
Under the proposal, the meals and beverage tax will rise from eight percent to 10 percent to generate $39.5 million statewide.