Senate aims to improve RI's business-friendliness with new report

Jan 15, 2013

A report released Tuesday morning by the state Senate and the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council uses a color-coded system to assess the state's performance on different economic indicators and recommends a series of steps for improvingits underperforming economy.

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has pledged that the "Moving the Needle" report will be used to make policy in this session. She discussed plans for a heightened economic focus in a recent interview with RIPR.

The report was prepared in response to national surveys giving Rhode Island poor marks for its business climate. The state has struggled for decades to reinvent its once-thriving manufacturing economy.

"Moving the Needle" assesses the state in five areas: economy; workforce & education; transportation & infrastructure; cost of doing business; and quality of life.

The report offers some kind words for the General Assembly, praising "a number of measures to improve business friendliness, lower costs, streamline regulations, and cut red tape" over recent years. It says these changes are not yet being fully reflected in national business rankings.

But "Moving the Needle" also makes clear Rhode Island's top problem -- a lack of jobs -- as well as high costs for higher education, energy, and health insurance; sub-standard roads and bridges, a poor business tax climate, and troublesome regulations.

The study offers specific recommendations in each of the five main areas, ranging from the general ("The state should develop a broad-based, strategic statewide economic development plan through a broad coalition of stakeholders") to the specific (introducing legislation to better match employers with the unemployed).

In a statement, Paiva Weed said:

“Successfully moving the needle and improving the business climate will require a sustained, cooperative partnership. Just as this report was a partnership between the Senate and RIPEC, our economic development efforts must be a collaborative effort that includes the voices of the Senate, the House, the Governor and his administration, the non-profit sector, academia, and the business community. Working together, we will make Rhode Island more attractive to entrepreneurs, improve our image within our state and outside our borders, and help companies that are here to grow and create jobs.”

In related news, Governor Lincoln Chafee on Tuesday also announced a new research collaborative among Rhode Island's colleges and universities. Via statement:

Governor Chafee recently met with key partners – including the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) and the Rhode Island Foundation – to outline the framework for an independent research division to support economic development policy. A combination of public and private funding will support the Collaborative; the RIEDC will match the Rhode Island Foundation’s $100,000 commitment.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives plans to hold an economic conference at Rhode Island College.