John Simmons (left), executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC), formally presented this morning a 136-page report on remaking Rhode Island’s approach to economic development. The outside review – requested by Governor Chafee in May – follows RI’s decades-long struggle to reinvent its economy and the debacle with 38 Studios.
1. RIPEC recommends creating a new executive office of commerce, headed by a secretary appointed by the governor who would not be subject to Senate confirmation. Simmons would not cite a potential salary range.
2. The secretary would chair a newly created nine-member Council of Economic Advisers and a body dubbed the Commerce Coordinating Council.
3. The EDC would be renamed the RI Commerce Corporation and be led by a chief operating officer. The agency needs to be “more customer-centered, so it operates more effectively and consistently.”
4. As part of the restructuring recommended by RIPEC, state agencies like Labor and Training, Environmental Management, and Business Regulation would become part of the Executive Office of Commerce.
5. RIPEC recommends presenting state lawmakers with options and alternatives to improve RI’s business climate.
6. A central theme of RIPEC’s recommendations is that promoting commerce needs to be integrated throughout state government. Simmons said:
“This is the way of structuring it so within state government there’s someone who comes in every day and believes that promotion of the economy of Rhode Island is important. Currently, we do not see that. There’s no one in state government that comes in every day and it’s their task, sole task, to promote the commerce of the state.”
7. This finding in the report won’t surprise long-term observers: “Broadly, Rhode Island lacks a systematic, regular, data-driven approach for evaluating our economy; coordination of existing economic plans; and alignment of responsibility and authority.”
8. The EDC “lacks established metrics to measure outcomes; needs greater internal resource alignment and efficiency; and is challenged by decreasing or under-funding, understaffing and insufficient technology.”
9. Chafee declined to offer detailed reaction to RIPEC’s recommendations, saying he needs time to digest them. The governor left the Statehouse news conference during which the recommendations were presented not long after Simmons began speaking. Simmons said he viewed the governor’s departure as a non-issue.
10. The outlook for RIPEC’s recommendations remains unclear. Simmons told reporters during a briefing yesterday that they can be implemented in part through executive order.
11. RIPEC says its report is based on 75 interviews with more than 100 individuals in the public and private sectors.
12. The General Assembly’s joint economic development committee will get a briefing on the recommendations today at 4.