Clear the Way (But Don’t Build It) and They Will Come

It must be their training that leads business advocates and practitioners to declare that Rhode Island requires a targeted business plan.
A state is not a business; it’s a location. Government leaders are not CEOs and corporate board members; they’re politicians. We shouldn’t rely upon them to innovate and develop visions for business in the state; that should be left to business people — with their own professional necks on the line — to do.
Why, then does Newport County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Keith Stokes specify targeted tax changes and usage of an assumed federal stimulus windfall?

Of particular priority would be capital and infrastructure investments in designated industrial zone lands, enterprise zones, redevelopment districts and empowerment zones. …
The Rhode Island Five Year Comprehensive Economic Plan states “approximately 32,450 acres were zoned for industry. The inventory of industrial-zoned land showed that 11,116 acres were actually in industrial use, the remainder being vacant or in other uses.” Unfortunately, many acres of industrially zoned land in Rhode Island lack the basic infrastructure required for immediate business investment, most notably a lack of approved permits, utilities, environmental remediation, and road improvements. Investing in improving and expanding our state’s industrial zoned lands and existing industrial and corporate parks has been a state planning goal for many years, but consistently lacked adequate funding. Rhode Island already enjoys many important industrial and corporate parks that with additional capital and investment will further expand their jobs and tax revenue potential.

With the state crumbling around them, a few square miles of predeveloped industrial lands here and there will not persuade companies that Rhode Island has its act together. Indeed, depending how the development is done, the location and configuration could be all wrong for a specific company. We must invest in infrastructure, but we’re far from the point at which the state as a whole is in sufficiently healthy shape to focus on specific limited-use areas, and our leaders have demonstrated much less than the required insight to discern what uses companies may find for our land.
Smaller Business Association of New England Chairman Grafton Willey puts similar constraints on his advice:

We should build on our strengths and support those industries that have a unique advantage in Rhode Island. They would include: marine trades — boat building, boat storage and repair, slip rentals, boat equipment manufacturers and repairs; hospitality industry; health care; higher education; innovation and research; knowledge-based economy; and niche manufacturing industries where R.I. has a competitive advantage.

In its current predicament, Rhode Island needs to support any industries, within the boundaries of morality and safety, whose leaders determine from their own perspective that the state has a competitive advantage for them. Even putting aside the question of competence, to the degree that Rhode Island develops its own competitive advantage, it opens itself up to the subjective expenditure of public money to the benefit of politically powerful politicians and other interests.
Once again, it’s not as though we’ve money lying around without purpose because everything basic is already done. When energy and thought are expended on specific purposes despite general disarray, it’s a fair indication that the powers who be are distracting themselves from the straightforward steps that must be taken before innovation can stay on the tracks.

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15 years ago

We have one of the worst business climates in the country. Not only would this proposal not address the problem but it smacks of favoratism to certain property owners.
The entire state must be made inviting to business, not just tiny, isolated pockets of it.

15 years ago

Your attitude seems to fly in the face of urban and town planning. Isn’t it prudent for a municipality to decide on its planning regards to industrial use, retail and residential? Just look at the examples of poor or no planning and/or letting businesses decide. Middletown’s lovely commercial sprawl. Or Seekonk Rt 6 or Bald Hill Road in Warwick. While I agree that towns should be open to new businesses and adjust to their needs, public officials should be aware of the broader and long range plan for their communities.

15 years ago

Why let towns and municipalities have any say at all? I can see a garbage dump on Providence’s East Side, next to Brown University, chemical plants in Barrington would be quite popular, and a paper mill next to the Scituate Reservoir would do wonders for the Providence water supply. The idea is well short of half-assed.
I might also point out that our state’s chief executive was elected largely on the strength of his bona fides as a CEO and look where he has taken us.

Justin Katz
15 years ago

This post isn’t about towns’ trying to determine their general character and shape, with zones for this and that. It’s about targeted efforts to “build it” in the hopes that “they will come.”
Let “them” build it, even if they’re only allowed to do so in a limited area. Or, if need be, rather than RI’s habitual targeted give-aways to specific companies, make the state a better deal all around and then maybe include some infrastructure assistance in any negotiations with potential new companies.

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