Focus on Rubius

This Industry Is Investing Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Rhode Island


The life sciences industry in Rhode Island is flourishing, and it’s no accident. Across the state, private, public and academic organizations have doubled down on their efforts to stimulate the sector.


The payoff? Leading biotech companies like Rubius Therapeutics and Amgen have recently announced plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the state, in the form of a 135,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and 120,000-square-foot biomanufacturing plant, respectively.


Why Rhode Island? Over on the Rhode Island Inno blog this week, I’m exploring how our state got the recipe just right for biotech, pharma and medical technology companies like Johnson & Johnson, EpiVax, Rubius and Amgen. Go check it out!

Little Rhody Made Big Headlines This Summer


by Laurie White


Rhode Island’s job numbers this summer were good enough to shout from the rooftops. Not to mention, more companies announced they would be opening or expanding here—bringing both construction jobs and regular employment to Rhode Islanders. For these and many other reasons, our state could often be found in the headlines the past couple of months.

Over on the Rhode Island Inno blog, I’m sharing four of our most noteworthy news placements. Go check it out! 

5 Signs That Big Things Are Happening

America’s Smallest State Is On The Move

 By: Laurie White, president, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce

So many good things are happening in Rhode Island that I can barely keep track of them—that’s what this blog post is for! Consider this your running list of our state’s latest accomplishments, a brag book for you to share with anyone who wants to know what’s going on with Rhode Island these days. 


1)      Jobs in Rhode Island top half a million: The latest jobs report from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training gives us reason to celebrate. For the first time in our state’s history, the number of jobs exceeds a half million—a great indication that Rhode Islanders are back to work. In May 2018, 1,200 jobs were added in Rhode Island, bringing the grand total to 500,300. Our unemployment rate also dropped to 4.4 percent.


2)      New state rankings are in from Chief Executive and Business Insider: Two top magazines recently revealed new state rankings that demonstrate some much-improved placements for our state. As Chief Executive magazine reported, “Rhode Island engineered the most dramatic leap of any state in the 2018 Chief Executive ‘Best States/Worst States for Business’ survey with an approach that is almost always guaranteed to be effective with CEOs: making it much easier to do business.” Rhode Island climbed Chief Executive’s list by 10 spots, to No. 32 from No. 42. Perhaps even more impressive is Business Insider’s list of U.S. state economies, ranked from worst to best. Rhode Island earned the No. 9 spot on that list, having achieved the third-highest rate of wage growth in the country, with average hourly earnings increasing 8.3 percent between December 2016 and December 2017. Further, Business Insider pointed out that Rhode Island’s Q3 2017 GDP growth rate of 3.5 percent was well above the average rate of 2.9 percent among the 50 states and DC.


3)      Continued construction growth in Cranetown: It’s been a while since I’ve commented here about the construction growth in Providence, which we’ve nicknamed Cranetown (though I have devoted past posts, here and here, to spotlighting the cranes in the sky). Our skies are now more crowded with cranes than ever, thanks to the state’s real estate investment programs, which are investing in 32 development projects that are creating approximately 6,000 construction jobs and injecting more than $1 billion dollars of investment into Rhode Island. Meanwhile, continued progress is being made on the new Providence River Pedestrian Bridge, which connects the Knowledge District (Brown, RISD) with the New Innovation District (Wexford, Johnson & Johnson, Cambridge Innovation Center, etc).


4)      Rhode Island, the media darling? The first half of 2018 brought with it a flurry of positive media coverage of our state, including Inc.’s article “2 Fast Growing Cities You Should Consider for Your Startup,” which pinpoints Providence and Albuquerque as underrated startup destinations. In May, Global Banking & Finance Review published an account of our recent economic triumphs, citing our partnerships with four companies that will bring a total of more than 2,000 permanent jobs, $800 million in private development and more than 1,000 construction jobs. And when ran its postmortem on those cities who’ve been slashed from Amazon’s list of potential locations for its HQ2, it said this about Rhode Island’s bid: “Had Amazon accepted Providence, Rhode Island’s bid, employees would be surrounded by artistic venues and museums, 400 miles of coastline and award-winning culinary experiences.” Forbes is touting Rhode Island's mighty manufacturing prowess. Finally, the Boston Globe covered Amgen’s announcement that it will build a $160 million manufacturing plant in Rhode Island, adding 150 skilled manufacturing positions and creating about 200 construction jobs.


5)      Rhode Island welcomes 27 companies in 25 months: Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, GE Digital, Virgin Pulse, Priceline’s Agoda, Finlays and Ahold are just some of the companies that have announced plans to grow or relocate their operations in Rhode Island. These companies have variously chosen our state because of its sensible incentives, an improving business climate, R&D opportunities and the skilled talent pipeline they need to grow. As a state, Rhode Island has much to offer that companies seek, including access to talent from top universities, a lower cost of living and bright young minds.


A hotbed of talent, ideas and forward movement, Rhode Island is the place to be, and I’m happy to be among its champions.


Guest Blogger: Why I Love Reporting on the Ocean State Tech Scene - Courtney Gabrielson


I love my job.

Why? A bit of context: I'm new market editor at Rhode Island Inno, a digital media and events company that covers local tech and innovation through our online content, newsletter and events. Rhody Inno is one of nine (soon to be 10!) markets within American Inno's larger networks of publications across the country (think places Austin, Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, and more).

We get asked a lot what we mean by “innovation." Our team defines it as something that drives change for the better, so, to my delight, the breadth of topics we cover is wide. In Rhode Island, we’ve written stories about the traditional tech startup (think Upserve, Medley Genomics) and then we have pieces on a drone service run out of a van or centuries-old soap manufacturer.

The goal of these stories and resources is to first cultivate a readership of next-generation business leaders who are movers and shakers in their ecosystems, and then consistently inform, connect and enrich them with our stories, events and newsletters (dubbed “The Beat," it's a weekly missive you can sign up for here.).

So, startup founders, entrepreneurs, those hustling to make a difference in their tech community or at their office — essentially anyone driving change for the better — are the people who inspire us and fuel our work.

All that to say, my day-to-day is spent talking with and sharing the stories of these founders and entrepreneurs and the work they're doing to make their community — and in some cases, the world — a bit better.

In an age where there's just so much content and just so many headlines, many of which are of the "bummer" variety, it's immensely invigorating to be so enmeshed in an ecosystem where its movers and shakers are fired up about their work, passionate about helping other entrepreneurs develop their dreams and ultimately in love with their community and their state.

It's also equally wonderful to be plugged into an ecosystem that has so much going on. As I'm fond of saying, when we launched in July of 2017, I knew we'd have lots of Rhode Island tech news and startups to cover, but I didn't realize just how busy the ecosystem would keep us.

Seriously: There's been everything from the advent of fresh organizations led by impressive students founders (GoPeer, for example) to large-scale M&As (CVS and AetnaVirgin Pulse and RedBrick!), new pitch competitions (MassChallenge Rhode Island, which debuted earlier this year, just announced its first-ever cohort) to major up-and-coming resources (Rhode Island Inno was among those members of the press allowed to tour the Wexford Innovation Center construction site in Providence).

All this buzz isn't just anecdotal, either. In fact, the Ocean State had the highest ranking jump of 10 spots in Chief Executives' 2018 list of "Best States for Business" list, coming in at No. 32. That's huge!

As it's been said, "Rhode Island is on the move." That it is. And it's a pleasure to be here reporting on it.


Then and Now: Rhode Island’s Biotech Industry 

150 Years of Hospitals, Medical Education and Innovation 

This week, we continue our Then and Now blog series to mark the Chamber’s 150th anniversary and to unearth the roots of our state’s key industries. Here we recount Rhode Island’s history in medicine and how its past has paved the way to our present-day boom in biotech and healthcare jobs.

In 1811, Brown became the third university in the nation to offer academic medical education. Its pupils included physicians who went on to participate in the founding of the Rhode Island Medical Society in 1812 and the American Medical Association in 1847. However, less disciplined students (given to “idleness and dissipation”) may have also contributed to the medical school’s closure in 1827. (According to one tale, some rowdy medical students even rolled a barrel containing a skeleton down College Street. Needless to say, the top fell off the barrel and out tumbled the skeleton.)

Prior to 1868, when the Rhode Island Hospital accepted its first patient, the state was home to no hospitals, save for a military hospital in Portsmouth, a small Marine hospital, Dexter Asylum (opened in 1828 and demolished in 1957) and the Butler Hospital for the Insane (established in 1844 with a donation from industrialist Cyrus Butler). In 1851, the Rhode Island Medical Society petitioned Providence to build a hospital for “the reception of patients who require medical and surgical treatment, and who are not otherwise provided for.” The Rhode Island Hospital, which opened in October 1868, was the result of this petition. In 1873, the 12-bed Newport Hospital was also built. “In an era when most of the sick were cared for at home, a hospital was deemed a necessity for those whose homes were elsewhere: fishermen, military and others who worked the bay and ocean,” according to Newport Hospital’s website today. The two hospitals were the only general hospitals in the state built before the 20th century.

As the century was about to turn, William Osler, MD, spoke to the Rhode Island Medical Society about the continued absence of a medical school in the state, saying, “The existing conditions in Providence are singularly favorable for a small first-class school. Here are college laboratories of physics, chemistry and biology, and modern hospitals with three hundred beds. What is lacking? Neither zeal, persistence nor ability on the part of the physicians, but a generous donation to the University of a million dollars with which to equip and endow laboratories of anatomy, physiology, pathology and hygiene; the money should be the least difficult thing to get in this plutocratic town.”

However, Brown didn’t reintroduce its medical program until 1963, when the Warren Alpert Medical School was opened. By then, numerous additional hospitals had also been built throughout the state. 

   This vintage-age pharmacy offers a sharp contrast to today's advanced biologics industry. Rhode Islanders have been leaders and pioneers.

This vintage-age pharmacy offers a sharp contrast to today's advanced biologics industry. Rhode Islanders have been leaders and pioneers.


Between 2000 and 2010, healthcare was the fastest-growing industry in Rhode Island, adding 10,645 jobs. Today, the industry represents about 20 percent of the workforce in the state, which has made a big proposition in particular to companies and individuals in life sciences, biopharmaceuticals, medical devices and digital health. With its optimal location on the Northeast Corridor, Rhode Island rests at the center of a 33-million-person megalopolis with $2.1 trillion in output. Each year, Providence-Boston universities produce over 5,300 biology and biological sciences graduates, resulting in a region that’s home to 192,000 healthcare professionals, renowned hospitals, cutting-edge life sciences companies and world-class medical and design schools. 

In particular, the Rhode Island biotech industry is morphing into a vibrant ecosystem with a tremendous amount of untapped innovation capacity, generating approximately $500 million in revenue annually for the state. In the past 24 months, the state has invested $26 million in the life sciences industry and funded 34 R&D partnerships between companies and universities. Biotechnology companies like Amgen are also being supported by government tax incentives. To facilitate the building of Amgen’s new $160-million state-of-the-art biomanufacturing plant, the Board of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation recently approved tax credits through the Rebuild Rhode Island tax credit program and the Qualified Jobs Incentive Act. 

Incentives have also attracted healthcare companies like Virgin Pulse, which will hire nearly 300 people in Providence, and Magellan Health, which announced plans this past fall to expand its Rhode Island presence with 100 new jobs. 

Among its incentives, the state now offers Innovation Vouchers of up to $50,000 to game-changing companies like EpiVax, Materials Science Associates, S2S Surgical and Vitae Industries. These grants facilitate collaboration across the state’s research institutions and companies: For example, EpiVax is partnering with Rhode Island Hospital on a biotechnology project; Materials Science is partnering with Rhode Island Hospital on a biomedical engineering project; and Vitae Industries is partnering with Brown on biomedical research and development.

As Life Science Leader recently reported, “The smallest state in the U.S. is trying what few other regional hubs have attempted—to create an ecosystem sandwiched between the behemoths of Boston and NYC that is based on the principle of in-state research spawning homegrown startups. Other ecosystems—Boulder, Miami, Houston—are relatively isolated in their parts of the country, lacking proximity to Big Pharma or to a sizable academic research sector. Rhode Island has all that, plus a rich, albeit concentrated research base.”

Further, after 22 parcels of land were freed up a few years ago by the relocation of I-195, the state formalized its plans to build the Providence Innovation and Design District. In September, ground broke on the district’s 191,000-square-foot Wexford Innovation Center, whose anchor tenants will be Brown’s School of Professional Studies, the Cambridge Innovation Center and Johnson & Johnson’s Health Technology Center. (Johnson & Johnson was awarded tax credits under the Qualified Jobs Incentive Tax Credit Program and a grant from the First Wave Closing Fund.) Additionally, the Rhode Island School of Design and University of Rhode Island are working with local companies Lifespan and Ximedica to open a New England Medical Innovation Center in the district. Rhode Island officials estimate that the district will generate about $100 million in revenue over the next 20 years.

As R.I. Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor told The New York Times, “This neighborhood was once a fount of innovation ... We are reawakening that innovative spirit.”

For more of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s Then and Now blog series, check out our posts on Rhode Island’s rich and surprising history in jewelry manufacturing and retail. 

Next-Generation Bio Facility Picks RI

What’s Next for West Greenwich? A New $160 Million Manufacturing Plant


As I’ve blogged about before, there’s no shortage of news as it relates to our burgeoning skyline in #Cranetown. But this update involves a town a bit south of the capital, West Greenwich—and it represents one of the biggest developments to come to Rhode Island yet.


Biotechnology company Amgen, which already employs 625 full-time workers in our state, announced this week that West Greenwich will be the location of its first U.S. “next-generation” biomanufacturing plant. Amgen’s new Rhode Island plant is set to be built on the company’s existing 75-acre campus in West Greenwich. The new $160 million facility will bring approximately 150 new manufacturing jobs (with the possibility for up to 300)—as well as hundreds of construction and validation jobs—to the state. Besides providing further opportunity in highly skilled manufacturing, Amgen’s decision helps build Rhode Island’s resume as a leader in life sciences.

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Based in Thousand Oaks, California, Amgen opened its first next-gen facility in Singapore in 2014 and will model its R.I. facility after that one. This new plant will require a smaller-than-ordinary footprint and offer greater environmental benefits, including reduced consumption of water and energy and lower levels of carbon emissions.


This facility will truly be the first of its kind in the U.S.


Manufacturing has always been a core part of our DNA in Rhode Island, and we are proud to be at the forefront of reinventing manufacturing and bringing the industry into the modern age, as the Industrial Revolution did 200 years ago. With Amgen and hopefully other facilities following suit, Rhode Island’s momentum in innovation won’t be slowing down anytime soon.


According to Appleseed, an economic analysis firm, the project should add $3.7 million in net revenue to the state over the 12-year commitment period. As the 24th company to have expanded or landed in the Ocean State since 2015, it serves as more proof that Rhode Island is open for business and continuing to attract innovative new developments and opportunities in Providence and beyond.


To hear more about Rhode Island’s economic recovery story (in its business leaders’ own words), read our blog post about the event the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the Providence Foundation recently hosted.

Guest Blogger: Martha Sheridan on The Fun Side of Rhode Island

Why RI: For Martha Sheridan, President and CEO of Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, Authenticity Is on Every Menu

by Martha Sheridan

I head up the team of 23 professionals who make up the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Center Bureau. We’re the lead destination marketing organization for the city of Providence, and we support meeting and convention sales efforts for the city of Warwick. This extraordinary team works to fulfill our mission to raise the profile of our destinations and encourage more people to visit for leisure trips or to book a meeting or convention in Providence, Warwick or at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

The first thing to know is that I’m a native Rhode Islander, born and bred in this great state. So, for me the best part of my job is getting to bring people here to experience it firsthand—whether by taking a visit, organizing or attending a conference, or starting or moving a business here. I am passionate about ensuring that everyone who travels here has the best experience possible, and in order to do that, I have to figure out our best “selling points.”

One Rhode Island-centric selling point I like to highlight is that here we have just one degree of separation—that is, when you need something done, it’s just one phone call away. And if that something involves a travel package or conference, our customers can pick up the phone and someone on our team can get it done seamlessly.

Then, of course, is that old real estate adage: location, location, location. Rhode Island has it! We may be the smallest state, but we are readily accessible by air, rail or car. The fact that we’re within a five-hour drive for one-third of the U.S. population is a great selling point when we’re talking to planners for large conventions—it’s really easy to get here, so expect great attendance. 

And I always point out that Providence is truly a city with all the amenities of a major metropolitan area but with a big helping of New England charm. Its moniker, the Creative Capital, speaks to the fact that we’re a location that features fantastic arts and cultural offerings, like great attractions on the historic East Side—including the RISD Museum or the fantastic public displays of art and murals throughout the city.

That creative concept also weaves itself through our amazing culinary scene—one of the attributes that Rhode Islanders are most proud of, and one that sets us apart from other destinations. It is just a fact of life here: Amazing first-class dining is available at a fraction of the cost you would find in many major cities. And unlike the restaurant landscape in a lot of major cities, in the Providence area, you won’t find a lot of chain restaurants. What you will find are a lot of chef-owned, truly unique culinary outlets.

In that vein, we pride ourselves on the fact that no job is too small and no customer is too small to get the first-class, hands-on service that makes a real difference. Whether you’re a 10-person meeting or 2,000-person meeting, we’re going to do everything necessary to ensure that your visit or program here is the best that it can possibly be. 

I’m involved at a national level with many organizations, so I hear feedback from all across the country, from San Francisco, New York City, Chicago. They tell me: “I love Providence. Providence is a great city!” These are people from major metropolitan areas that are recognizing how special this destination is, so when I’m asked, “Why Rhode Island?” I can answer that this is a place you have to see to believe. It’s what keeps us excited and energized, and it’s why we get overwhelmingly positive feedback from our visitors.

Those of us who know and love Rhode Island also know that there’s one thing that underlies all of the amazing things about this place: authenticity. My group knows at its core what our “product” is. Of course, we work to enhance it whenever possible, but what sets us apart as a destination is that we don’t have big, premade attractions. We maintain that authenticity, and we stay true to what our destination has to offer. Everything that we put out from our agency has an authentic voice, whether it’s on social media channels, or when we’re working to sell the destination to leisure visitors or meeting planners. 

Martha Sheridan is president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. We invite you to explore our entire Why RI blog post series with Mike Lee, managing director of commercial real estate for Santander Bank; Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSRI; Dan Sullivan, president and CEO of Collette Travel; and Sandy Parrillo, president and CEO of Providence Mutual.


Why Rhode Island? It’s a Hotbed of Design Thinking and Innovation 


If you could track innovation with a heatmap, Rhode Island would be on fire. As home of the Industrial Revolution, innovation is baked into our DNA, but what’s more important is that the state is still actively cultivating creativity, both on the Innovation Campus being built with the University of Rhode Island and through our Innovation Voucher program. The latter allows companies with fewer than 500 employees to receive grants of up to $50,000 to fund R&D assistance from a local university, research center or medical center. Our state also offers Industry Cluster Grants to encourage companies in a sector to work together to solve problems, exchange ideas and develop talent.



Little Rhody is exciting for many reasons, but entrepreneurs and business leaders associated with the state inevitably say that they’re most thrilled by our unique and long-running capacity for design thinking and innovation. Here’s what some of them have said on the subject in recent months:


“We actually didn’t invent anything new. There’s nothing proprietary about what we do as a company. It was really translating what RISD teaches so well. It was being able to see two different things, and recombine them in a new and different way.” —Joe Gebbia, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate and cofounder of Airbnb


“One unique attribute in Rhode Island is design thinking. It’s absolutely essential; you can’t commoditize design or human creativity. In the age of the algorithm and A.I., anything that can be crunched will be crunched, but design rests on human creativity. Design, storytelling and the creation of empathy and relationships will become the most valuable scarcity.” —Andrew Keen, author/speaker/Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur


“Rhode Island excels in design, whether it’s tech design or traditional design, and we punch above our weight in engineering, between what’s coming out of Brown and the University of Rhode Island.” —Jon Duffy, president of Duffy & Shanley


“One of the things the Chamber has done over the past few years is convene people who have an interest in innovation—that had never been done before—folks in academics and business and government and research and development. The role they’re playing is very unique because they’re asking some very interesting questions: What does it take for entrepreneurs and young companies to be thriving and successful? And how can companies like mine enable those companies in a larger ecosystem?” —Donna Cupelo, regional president of New England at Verizon Communications Inc.


“The Community College of Rhode Island students epitomize innovation. When I think about innovation, I think about out-of-the-box thinking and resourcefulness, and in order to be an effective community college student you need to figure out how to work a couple of jobs, support your family and be a successful college student, so it’s just baked into their DNA. … They’re working in spaces that are very digitally driven, where they’re being required to really innovate on the move in order to serve the kind of employers that they’re going to go on to serve once they cross our graduation stage.” —Dr. Megan Hughes, president of Community College of Rhode Island


“There’s only one Silicon Valley. There only ever will be. We’d be ill-advised to try to replicate it. We have our own unique assets, and yet we can also draw upon that other fount of innovation in the country at the moment, Boston and Cambridge.” —Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island secretary of commerce


“There are a couple of drivers behind our innovative mindset. When we think about Rhode Island being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution 200 plus years ago and then we think of creating, designing and building the Block Island Wind Farm in 2016, [you can see that] it’s in our DNA. We have to innovate. It’s who we are. And it’s a really small state so the great part about being small among many is that we have a huge concentration of talent here [who are] furthering this design thinking and innovation.” —Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBS RI


“Without question, there’s a sense of innovation amongst our higher education institutions. A lot of our colleges and universities in the state are on the cutting edge in thinking about how to do curricular renewal and how to change the quality of the collegiate experience so that we’re preparing graduates who are more engaged and have more relevant skill sets and talent to engage with today’s economy.” —Frank Sanchez, president of Rhode Island College


The ability to solve problems in creative and innovative ways can be a game-changer for an organization. We invite you to visit our site to dive into the talent opportunities in our state. 


WHY RI: Tight-Fit Talent

Why Rhode Island? Talent, Talent and More Talent


At the Chamber, we spend much of our day talking to people about all things Rhode Island. This state is home for people for many reasons, but when we ask them why they’ve chosen Rhode Island to do business in, their answers invariably have something to do with the concentration of diverse and sophisticated talent here. But don’t take my word for it. 

Here’s what some top business leaders have said in recent months about the talent pool here:

“The culture of Rhode Island and the culture of Providence is one that’s ripe to attract companies like ours, and part of that is the talent pool.” —Joe Gebbia, cofounder of Airbnb

“There’s great talent here. We have a front row recruiting seat to five or six great schools—including Brown and RISD and the University of Rhode Island.” —David Osborne, CEO of Virgin Pulse

“The insurance industry is facing a graying of talent—a definite challenge as we go forward—but we’ve benefited from our proximity to [Rhode Island’s] great institutions of higher learning, from which we can attract young people.” —Sandy Parillo, president and CEO of Providence Mutual

“For the size of Rhode Island, [it’s incredible] to have Brown, RISD, Johnson & Wales, Bryant and Providence College. We have a lot of smart kids, and … they want to contribute right away, and that’s what innovation is all about, right? They come in, they have great ideas and they’re the engine that’s making Providence such an exciting place to be.” —Jon Duffy, president of Duffy & Shanley

“[Innovation is] baked into the DNA. If you go all the way back to the eighteenth century and look at, for example, the great Newport furniture makers, they represent the very best that was done in our country. You look at the silversmiths, and you look at what grew out of that design intelligence—it’s alive and well here. You see it at RISD. You see it at the hundreds of small businesses that exist across the state. You see it in places like HASBRO and CVS. It’s part of who we are.” —Dr. Megan Hughes, president of Community College of Rhode Island

“We’ve seen a hit parade in recent months of tech- or innovation-oriented companies that want to get close to our universities or talent pipelines.”  —Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island secretary of commerce

“Not only is it easier to become a thought leader here, but also the state punches well above its weight with a talented workforce that’s constantly refreshed by the creative thinkers and entrepreneurs pouring out of our 11 colleges and universities.” —Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBS RI

“Our colleges and universities are on the cutting edge [when it comes to] thinking about how to do curricular renewal and how to change the quality of the collegiate experience so that we’re preparing graduates that are more engaged and have more relevant skill sets and talent to engage with today’s economy.” —Frank Sanchez, president of Rhode Island College

In business, talent is the great differentiator. With a dozen world-class colleges and universities, Rhode Island offers a strong and continuous flow of highly educated workers. We invite you to further explore the rest of our site to dive into the talent opportunities in our state. 

Read about how the GPCC can help you tap into Rhode Island’s talent pool. 


Business Optimism All Around Us

Survey Results: 65 Percent of Local Business Leaders Say R.I. Economy Will Be in Better Shape in Next 12 Months

What’s the momentum behind Rhode Island’s local economy really like? To find out, we asked the more than 250 prominent business and civic leaders who attended our 18th annual Economic Outlook Breakfast, cohosted with Santander Bank on Monday.

After sharing his thoughts on the tremendous potential of Rhode Island’s economy, Mike Lee, managing director of Santander Commercial Banking, facilitated a real-time survey in which the attendees answered questions about the state of the local and national economy and the key issues facing their companies. We even got in a question about the Red Sox. Joining Mike to discuss regional business issues were Kelly Coates, president and chief operating officer for Carpionato Group; Maureen Boudreau, director of healthcare technology for Johnson & Johnson; and James Karam, president and founder of First Bristol Corporation. 

Net-net, optimism about Providence and Rhode Island was the dominant theme.

What grabbed my attention was that:

Nearly 54 percent of you believe that the U.S. economy will be in better shape over the next 12 months, while 28 percent believe it will stay about the same. 

Seventy-one percent of you believe your business is in better shape this year than last year, while 8 percent said it is in worse shape today.

Forty-two percent of you cited revenue and sales growth as the most challenging issues your businesses expect to face in the next year, while 28 percent noted talent shortage, 10 percent selected regulatory requirements and seven percent chose managing “big data” and cybersecurity. 

Nearly 55 percent of you said that you will be hiring over the next year. 

Forty percent of you indicated you will be hiring because current staffing levels cannot meet demand, while 26 percent of you selected projected sales growth, and another 25 percent noted you would be hiring because you need skills not possessed by your current staff. 

When asked about your current workforce, you cited team building and group dynamics at 54 percent and technology skills at 39 percent as the top two areas that need development.  

Oh, and last but not least: 55 percent said the Red Sox will not win the World Series. I’m sure there are some Yankees fans smiling at this!

My key takeaways from this breakfast? As confidence in the economy grows and Rhode Island secures more wins like Infosys and Johnson & Johnson, it’s important that the business and civic leaders represented at the breakfast this week continue to engage in meaningful conversations about Rhode Island. Together, we must stay focused on helping all Rhode Island companies thrive so that we maintain a competitive and attractive business climate for the long-term.

To hear more about what Rhode Island’s business leaders have to say about the state, read our blog post about the Providence: An Economic Recovery Story event we also hosted earlier this month. 

Guest Blogger: Mike Lee on #whyRI

Why RI: Santander Bank’s Mike Lee Chooses Rhode Island

Rhode Islanders choose to live and work in Rhode Island for many reasons. Certainly, we love the beaches, the restaurants, the quality of life and the influence of our universities. Easy connectivity with nearby Boston and other major hubs is also appealing.

I’m proud to be a native of Providence and a lifelong resident of Rhode Island. I attended both undergraduate and graduate school at Providence College, and today I live just outside the city in Scituate. My wife and I have raised our three daughters here, and I’ve spent my career—spanning almost four decades—here working for banks. Since 2009, I’ve led the Commercial Real Estate Banking business for Santander Bank, one of the country’s largest commercial and retail banks – and one of the largest banks in the world.

Why more companies are choosing Rhode Island

From a business perspective, Rhode Island is uniquely appealing. In the last couple of years especially, we’ve welcomed an influx of new companies that are choosing our state because it has many of the key qualities they seek:

·        A well-trained and well-educated workforce: We have an abundance of the top educational institutions and comprehensive workforce training programs that are in place throughout the state.

·        A predictable business environment: The current administration has updated Rhode Island’s regulatory and tax policies, removing red tape to create an ideal environment for new and established companies.

·        Available and affordable housing: The opportunities for housing in Rhode Island are abundant, and the affordability index—when compared to major cities like Boston and New York—is important, especially for young people just leaving college and families that are starting off.

·        Transportation and infrastructure: It’s easy to get from one place to another here. When you consider the traffic congestion of some of Rhode Island’s competing and surrounding areas, we’re much more favorable when it comes to transportation and commute times.

·        Technology and utilities: For certain industries, utilities and energy supply are of paramount importance, especially for those companies that operate in the industrial parks in Cranston, Woonsocket or Quonset.

At Santander, our team members who live and work in Rhode Island tell me that many of their customers are also their neighbors and friends. I’m thrilled to say that’s the case for me, too - I’ve met many of my dearest friends through my interactions at Santander. I’m inspired every day by the great work that Santander employees do to make Rhode Island a better place, not only through countless hours of volunteerism but also by putting the customer first. We do this by striving to be a simple, personal and fair place to work and a bank that is respectful of every customer and every employee. If a company can embody these things, it will pass the test of time.

Advice for entrepreneurs and young professionals

Pursue your passion. That’s what I tell young people and budding entrepreneurs. If there’s something that excites you when you get up every morning, do that. You’re going to be doing it for a long time. It’s important to be happy at what you do.

I also encourage people to identify the areas where they are not proficient and to seek expert advice in those areas. In my career, the only constant has been change, and technology has been the most important single change that has persisted over those four decades. So my other piece of advice is to embrace technology.

Finally, whether in life or at work, there are always going to be challenges along the way. It’s important to be a problem solver and to persist through setbacks. All great entrepreneurs have worked through setbacks, and it seems perseverance is their common theme

Mike Lee is managing director of commercial real estate for Santander Bank. We invite you to explore our entire Why RI blog post series with Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSRI; Dan Sullivan, president and CEO of Collette Travel; and Sandy Parrillo, president and CEO of Providence Mutual.

150 Years of Baubles, Bling and the Rise of America’s Only Jewelry Billionaire

Throughout 2018, we will be posting to our Then and Now blog series to unearth the roots of our state’s key industries. Today, our earliest entrepreneurs and Rhode Island’s rich and surprising history of jewelry manufacturing.

In the 1880s, Rhode Island was the No. 1 state for jewelry manufacturing, accounting for one quarter of the entire country’s production, thanks to the more than 200 Providence-based jewelry firms that employed almost 7,000 workers. How did the smallest state become the “jewelry capital of the world”? 

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To put our finger on the industry’s origins in Rhode Island, we have to trace back even further, to 1794, when a man named Seril Dodge opened his jewelry store on North Main Street in Providence. He made shoe buckles that the dandies of that day took a shine to. But it was his nephew, Nehemiah Dodge, who would go on to develop an early process to plate lesser metals in gold and silver, whetting the nation’s appetite for inexpensive jewelry. Around the Dodge family, a generation of innovative jewelry manufacturers sprang up. A Jewelry District hummed to life in Providence, powered by an immigrant labor force. And around the country, the Industrial Revolution spurred increased production and economic growth. (Of note, Rhode Island is also widely credited as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. In 1790, English immigrant Samuel Slater built the first American factory to successfully produce cotton yarn with water-powered machines.) 

Jewelry-making in Rhode Island flourished for a century, and rags-to-riches stories abounded. The Great Depression put growth in the Jewelry District on pause until after World War II, but Rhode Island emerged from wartime with manufacturing as its dominant activity. And though the Jewelry District was bisected by the construction of Interstate 195 in the 1960s, jewelry represented the state’s largest manufacturing sector by 1978. At that time, Rhode Island produced 80 percent of the country’s costume jewelry and employed 32,500 workers in the industry.

Along the way, evolving trends in fashion helped feed demand for Rhode Island-made baubles. As Peter DiCristofaro, the jewelry historian who founded the Providence Jewelry Museum, tells it, “You had the counterculture, birth control—and pierced earrings. In the ’70s you had disco jewelry, and in the ’80s you had big hair and big jewelry.”

Then came a steep and sudden decline in sales. Fashions changed, and overseas companies that offered cheap labor began competing with local makers. Many Rhode Island companies went out of business. Factories closed. By 1996, only 13,500 people remained employed in jewelry in the state. 

Around the country, manufacturers were telling similar stories. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1960, about one in four American workers had a job in manufacturing. Today fewer than one in 10 are employed in the sector.

   Carolyn Rafaelian, founder of Alex and Ani. Photo by Rhode Island Monthly magazine

Carolyn Rafaelian, founder of Alex and Ani. Photo by Rhode Island Monthly magazine

Nevertheless, the one-time “jewelry capital of the world” is undergoing a revival. Besides being home to Alex and Ani, the half-billion-dollar brand founded by native Rhode Islander Carolyn Rafaelian, the state can boast one thousand jewelry-related companies. According to a recent WWD account, “Rhode Island’s jewelry manufacturing is a nearly self-sustaining ecosystem—invisible to those not in-the-know. Stuffed into unassuming pre-war millhouses, their floorboards are worn to a sloping sheen and the sound of arcane machinery fills the air with a droning hum.”

Tiffany & Co., David Yurman, Shinola and Jennifer Fisher all now manufacture their wares in the state. From its HQ in Cranston, Jewelry Concepts has become a world leader in personalized jewelry, annually producing over one million unique personalized jewelry items. And companies like Luca + Danni and Alexys Ryan are quickly writing their own success stories. Why the return to manufacturing in Rhode Island? Besides the public’s embrace of the Made in America movement, jewelry makers cite frustration with quality control and delays experienced with overseas manufacturers. Designer Pamela Love, who manufactures part of her line in Rhode Island, recently told WWD, “The quality is fantastic, [the Rhode Island factories] do such a great job. I think that the chain factories, the finding factories are on par with Italy.”

Today, Rhode Island once more has the highest concentration of jobs in the jewelry industry in the United States. The 30-year-old Providence Jewelry Museum, which has long resided quietly on a dead end street in Cranston, is now being made over as the National Jewelry Museum and will be opened to the public. It will move to Providence, where it can better put the state’s industrial past on display, in the form of 50 Providence-made machines, 200 pieces of jewelry and 20,000 company samples spanning more than two centuries of jewelry making. Museum president Edward Lemire says, “We are on a mission to make [the museum] a bigger, better, permanent, public tourist attraction. A lot of people had no idea this all went on in the United States. This will bring that awareness back.”

By most accounts, one jewelry brand in particular has helped Rhode Island return as a world player on the jewelry scene: Alex and Ani, a bangle-making brand founded in 2004. Not only has the brand grown from $4 million in sales in 2010 to $500 million in sales in 2015, but it bridges Rhode Island’s past with its present, since founder Carolyn Rafaelian opened Alex and Ani out of her father’s Rhode Island jewelry factory. She and her sister had worked at the factory as teenagers in the 1960s, and she began to design jewelry herself. Today, her designs have made her America’s only jewelry billionaire, and she sits at the No. 18 spot on the Forbes list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, another native Rhode Islander, also has familial ties to Rhode Island’s bejeweled past: “I had a great life as a kid—my dad had a job at the Bulova Watch company,” she told Rhode Island Public Radio. “Good jobs like his gave people dignity in their work. It’s important that Rhode Island gets [manufacturing] right.”

The governor, whose late father lost his job at the watch factory when work was shipped overseas, has committed to rebuilding and reinventing Rhode Island’s manufacturing prowess. Jewelry will always be an important part of that story. 

Providence's Leaders Tell Its Economic Recovery Story


Last Tuesday, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and the Providence Foundation turned the Rotunda Room at the Rhode Island Convention Center into a sold-out love fest for Providence and a celebration of the many opportunities that our changing skyline holds. The idea for the event came from our Bisnow panel in Boston last fall. Many there were taken off guard by the number of projects going on in Providence, not just within our downtown core but interspersed throughout the city. 

And because I was surprised that they were so surprised by all that Providence has going on, we decided to put forth this event, which we called “Providence: An Economic Recovery Story.” The idea was to show the business community exactly what’s changing in terms of our physical landscape. During the event, we heard from Mayor Jorge Elorza; Alden Anderson, Jr., senior vice president/partner of CBRE New England and chairman of the GPCC board; Russell Carey, EVP for planning and policy at Brown University and chair of the Providence Foundation; Christopher Marsella, president of Marsella Development Corporation; and Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

In a panel discussion I moderated, Mayor Elorza confirmed that there are 60 projects under construction or in the pipeline in Providence right now. Together we explored the city’s investments in public spaces and infrastructure, the permit process for developers and entrepreneurs, the hotel building boom, how to attract more meetings and conventions, and the importance of public-private collaboration, downtown parks and intermodal transit hubs. Here are some highlights from our talk:

Where Providence is going

“During the downturn from 2008 to 2012, [Rhode Island’s] academic institutions continued to invest in our market, particularly in Providence, and that really made a huge difference in terms of keeping people at work and keeping the economy moving and taking a lot of property that was functionally challenged and putting it to alternative uses.” —Alden Anderson, Jr. 

“When I think of what we need to do to continue to encourage development, investment and optimism here in Providence, the finances are absolutely fundamental. Nothing else matters unless the foundation is strong. Because of that, over the course of the past three years, my administration has made the city’s finances an absolute priority. What we’ve done is completely, from top to bottom, changed the way that we put our budgets together and manage them throughout the year.” —Mayor Jorge Elorza 

 “[The Wexford Innovation Center] is one of the most important buildings happening in the city right now, and it is absolutely a partnership of private entities and developers with the support of the city and the state. The key of that building is in the Cambridge Innovation Center. … The environment is all about starting businesses and about community. It’s the type of place that will help us in terms of attracting students who want to stay in Providence after Brown, URI, RISD and others. But not only young people—[it will help us attract] anyone who has an idea, [anyone] who’s looking to start a business as part of a community rather than in isolation. That’s very important to the environment of innovation that we’re all trying to create. In just a little over a year that building will be done.” —Russell Carey

“We currently have about 2,400 hotel rooms in downtown Providence. We’ve seen 96 percent to 98 percent occupancy most Saturday nights. We may be adding 600 to 800 new rooms if six to seven new hotels actually open.” —Martha Sheridan

What we still need to do in Providence 

“We’ve got this mythical border between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The more we can break that border down and become part of a regional economy, the more successful we will be.” —Alden Anderson, Jr. 

“Anywhere on the planet, but especially in cities, transit is important. Good, efficient transit creates development. Here in Providence, we displaced and disconnected the bus hub from the Amtrak station 30 years ago, and I applaud the state for trying to reconnect those. What they’re studying in terms of future and multiple modes of transportation and having it in one location is really key to not only statewide transit but also how we move around the city. Downtown transit would be a game changer for the city. That’s something the state continues to work on. It’s a big project, but we’ve done big projects before. It certainly closes the loop on the Capital Center changes that began 30 years ago.” —Christopher Marsella

“I want to remind everyone about what’s been happening in our airport in the past year. We have added over a dozen direct service flights, many of them to international destinations. And for the most part, a lot of international visitors want to come into the city and walk. They don’t want to navigate in a car. Having robust mass transit would certainly help with that. They also want to go all over the state—so the more robust and far-reaching our mass transit system is, the better it will be.” —Martha Sheridan

“The role of cities is to find ways to bring people together. … that’s what cities do—you find a way to not just coexist but to thrive together. So while we do have bricks and mortar and buildings going up, which is outstanding, and while we do have institutional assets that are as strong as they’ve ever been and growing, what we have to focus on is the programming to make sure that the network between all of the institutions, people and groups is as strong as it can be.” —Mayor Jorge Elorza 

Read our blog post about the Bisnow panel that inspired “Providence: An Economic Recovery 

In Their Own Words: How Entrepreneurs Are Supported in RI

When TechCrunch host and best-selling author Andrew Keen visited Providence late last year, all of us here at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce were excited to introduce him to Gov. Gina Raimondo and Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor, along with several of our entrepreneurial-minded board members. In the interviews we arranged between Andrew and these board members—such as Verizon’s Donna Cupelo, CCRI’s Dr. Meghan Hughes, BCBSRI’s Kim Keck and Duffy & Shanley’s Jon Duffy (which you can find soon on this website), a key theme developed: One hundred fifty years into our work as a chamber, the GPCC is doing something right. We will strive to continue to live up to the words that follow: 

Stefan Pryor, secretary of commerce for the state of Rhode Island: “We have the best relationship between a state commerce operation and a chamber of commerce in the country. The GPCC has teamed up with us to recruit businesses and spread the word on momentum in Rhode Island. They raised private money to do it. They deployed themselves simultaneously with us to trade shows and site selection events and to other forums where states are competing. The power of being jointly deployed—as state officials and chamber of commerce officials—it means that the private sector is at the table when we’re recruiting another business. What better message could there be about what our business community thinks of itself? Of the pride, the optimism to be sitting with the chamber? The future is bright in terms of this collaboration blossoming.” 

Donna Cupelo, regional president of New England at Verizon Communications Inc.: “One of the things the [GPCC] has done over the past few years is try to convene people who have an interest in innovation. That had never been done before. The Chamber has convene[d] all types of folks in academics and business and government and research and development, and the role they’re playing is very unique because they’re asking some very interesting questions: What does it take for entrepreneurs? What does it take for young companies to be thriving and successful, and how can companies like mine enable those companies in a larger ecosystem?” 

Jon Duffy, president of Duffy & Shanley: “Not all states have a city-state, so you’ll [ordinarily] see multiple chambers that make up a certain geography. The Providence chamber is the dominant chamber here; almost every major business is a member so you have the ability to get everybody together from the same hymn book, which is rare. The size of Rhode Island is one of the reasons the [GPCC] is able to act as a leader. It’s easy to bring people together; it’s easy to get a lot of decision-makers in a room and agree on a strategy, agree to put your shoulder against something and make things happen. The Chamber plays an important role in that in terms of leading—you need leadership and the business community will follow.” 

Meghan Hughes, president of Community College of Rhode Island: “The Chamber [is one of the] unique strengths that Rhode Island brings that other states just can’t compete with. If you are a business and you’re looking at coming to Rhode Island with relative ease, we can bring together our congressional delegation, our local government leaders, our local employer leaders, our local educational leaders and our local nonprofit leaders into the same room trying to solve the same problem. The Chamber is a really effective partner at listening to what potential employers need [and] what current employers need here in order to grow.” 

Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSRI: “The Chamber is a great convener—of opportunities, information, resources—connecting companies who have already solved a problem to companies who have an opportunity. … One of the things I think the Chamber does particularly well is understanding what’s going on in different industries and different states and bringing [that understanding] home to Rhode Island.” 

Find Andrew Keen’s interviews with Rhode Island business leaders—ranging from Verizon’s Donna Cupelo to CCRI’s Dr. Meghan Hughes to BCBSRI’s Kim Keck and RIC’s Dr. Frank Sánchez and many more—on the Chamber’s web and digital channels in the coming weeks and months.