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.

Business Leaders Offer Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

On a recent Monday afternoon, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion at Brown University about the ways that entrepreneurs and forward thinkers are leading the way to a new Rhode Island. Moderated by Inc. contributor and Shorty Award winner Jeff Barrett, the conversation featured entrepreneurs and educators who are contributing to the state’s thriving maker ecosystem.

Co-hosted by Innovation Providence and Brown University’s Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, Jeff was joined on the panel by Fred Magnanimi, CEO and founder of Luca + Danni; Meg Wirth, CEO and co-founder of Maternova; Ellen McNulty-Brown, CEO of Lotuff Leather; and Jonas Clark, associate director of Brown’s Nelson Center.

We captured many of the insights shared by panelists on the @ProvChamber Twitter feed, which I hope you’ll take some time to read through. And for those of you who haven’t joined the Twitterverse, here’s the advice that each panelist said they would share with an aspiring entrepreneur. Happy reading! 

1.      “Give yourself runway—give yourself time to fail before you succeed.” —Jeff Barrett, Inc. contributor and PR consultant

2.      “Start with the question that you are focused on. Then have the confidence, persistence and passion to find a solution to that question.” —Meg Wirth, CEO and co-founder, Maternova

3.      “Be a good listener. Pay attention to your customers. Ask yourself whether you are building something that will provide value to those you serve.” —Jonas Clark, associate director, Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, Brown University

4.      “Don’t think, just do—and you will learn by doing.” —Ellen McNulty-Brown, CEO, Lotuff Leather

5.      “Don’t be afraid to cold email or cold call. You will get a lot of no’s—but be relentless. And make sure you surround yourself with a great team.” —Daniel DeCiccio, co-founder and CTO, Vitae Industries

6.      “Partner with a mentor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to fail. Don’t accept no for an answer. And take a test-and-learn approach.” —Fred Magnanimi, CEO and founder, Luca + Danni

We appreciate the participation of these business leaders and look forward to the new stories that the next generation of Rhode Island entrepreneurs are now writing.

For more information, read our blog post on the forces feeding entrepreneurship in the state today, and contact us if you’d like to learn more about the ways the Chamber is sparking innovation and supporting entrepreneurs in the state.


We Invited TechCrunch’s Andrew Keen to R.I. and Something Awesome Happened

For the past seven months, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce has supported “Innovate 2017,” a TV series hosted by author/speaker/Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur Andrew Keen. During this period, Andrew interviewed numerous leading thinkers across public, private and social sectors to “pontificate” about technology and innovation. When he attended our annual meeting in Providence on Nov. 20, he also interviewed Gov. Gina Raimondo for the series, as well as our board chair, Alden Anderson, Jr., Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor, and a number of other Rhode Island business leaders for a video series that we’ll be sharing with you over the coming weeks and months.

   Influential blogger Andrew Keen says Rhode Island has extraordinary capacity in "design thinking"which is where the future is headed.

Influential blogger Andrew Keen says Rhode Island has extraordinary capacity in "design thinking"which is where the future is headed.


It was Andrew’s first time doing anything more than just “passing through” Rhode Island on the way to someplace else, and something awesome happened: He was blown away by the promise of our little New England state and in particular by our governor’s intellect and impressive background, calling her “incredibly smart and dynamic” and comparing her to another personable government leader he’s interviewed, Emmanuel Macron. By the time Andrew had completed his immersion in all things Rhode Island, I felt compelled to turn the tables on him, interviewing him about his impressions of our state. They are as follows:


·         Rhode Island offers the real deal: “The geography is incredibly rich with potential, at a time when geography is increasingly important. Digital pundits have argued that we’re in a post-geography, post-physical-space era—that it doesn’t matter where we are. In spite of those predictions, made goods and physical goods like vinyl LPs and books have become more valuable, and talent has congregated in places like New York and San Francisco. What digital has done is created an abundance of information, which has generated a new scarcity—attention. There are infinite amounts of movies, music and content online, but it’s no coincidence that young people are embracing the physical. And in spite of that fact that we can now speak or meet with anyone digitally or virtually, physical meetings, like TED conferences, have become increasingly valuable. Digital doesn’t replace physical engagement. Scarcity of the physical is one of the realities of the 21st century. It turns out, place does matter, and Rhode Island is an excellent place to be. We need to get people to experience the state firsthand; you have a wonderful state and a wonderful governor.”


·         The size is right: “What struck me, when taking the train from New York to Rhode Island and from Boston to Rhode Island, is that it’s really not that far. This is important—not only because of the state’s proximity to major urban centers, but also because of its size. Small, vibrant, flexible places will have huge value in the future as opposed to sprawling empires. The 21st century will be owned by smaller places like Singapore, Estonia and even Rhode Island. Rhode Island, being small, becomes a meeting post; it can play a central role on the U.S. eastern seaboard, but also globally. As America changes, places like Rhode Island have great potential.”


·         Its industrial pedigree bodes well for its digital potential: “Rhode Island was at the center of the Industrial Revolution, boding well for its potential as a player in the digital revolution. This is especially true now that Silicon Valley is in crisis in so many ways, and people are bored with it. I think there’s something to what Steve Case has written about with “the rise of the rest” and our country’s emerging startup ecosystems. Rhode Island just needs to roll its sleeves up. Your success is about the rejuvenation of America.”


·         Design is Rhode Island’s differentiator: “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.”


·         Our governor is an asset: “My interview with Gov. Raimondo was one of the most successful that I’ve done. It generated a lot of positive buzz. People were impressed with her—how smart she is, her business-orientation, and they wanted to know more about her, especially these days with the explosion of gender in politics. It’s important for the state to leverage the governor’s vision for the future. Her background as a venture capitalist and her understanding of the investment landscape also needs to be stressed. It’s a compelling story, and it needs to be told repeatedly.”


·         What’s hot for 2018: “My new book [How to Fix the Future] comes out in February in the U.S., and on TechCrunch this year, we’ll explore solutions for a lot of the themes we pursued via Innovation 2017 around women’s issues, justice in technology, new technologies and algorithms that reflect biases—2018 is the year of solutions. Rhode Island is interesting because it doesn’t focus on problems, but instead on mapping out the future.”


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.

Why RI: Businesses Are Taking Off ---Thanks to the Recent Expansion of T.F. Green Airport

The recent announcement by Gov. Gina Raimondo that Air Canada will begin round trip service from Providence to Toronto -- the latest in a flurry of new economic developments in Rhode Island  -- was an exciting one to witness. We were at T.F. Green to greet Air Canada dignitaries and officially welcome them to the nation's premier medium-sized airport. It's the kind of work we have been doing for nearly a century. Whether we are advocating for entrepreneurs or making business to business connections among our members, we have an expansive portfolio or activities.

   Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island dignitaries welcome Air Canada to the Providence market, with nonstop flights beginning soon.

Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island dignitaries welcome Air Canada to the Providence market, with nonstop flights beginning soon.

Back in the late 1920s, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce worked with the state legislature to establish an airport in Rhode Island because we recognized early on that air transportation was essential to our community’s long-term economic vitality—earning Providence the moniker of the “Southern Gateway to New England.” And we’ve never stopped advocating for the continued expansion of what is now T.F. Green Airport to provide greater amenities with each passing year. Fast-forward to present day, and we now have a bustling transportation hub that will only continue to grow and benefit Rhode Island’s thriving business community. Passenger travel in and out of Providence grew by 7.8 percent in 2017 over the prior year.

Already the T.F. Green Airport offers nonstop trips to 34 cities. There are now year-round, nonstop flights to Europe, and they are among the cheapest trans-Atlantic flights offered nationwide. Multiple carriers are competing to offer flights from T.F. Green, and airfare prices have dropped as a result. In the past year alone, four new airlines have been introduced to the Warwick hub, including Norwegian Air. And just a few short weeks ago, a new 8,700-foot runway expansion was completed. This has increased service opportunities to accommodate all types of aircraft and has made destinations that were once inaccessible a travel reality.

Having these services has made Rhode Island all the more prominent as an epicenter of commercial growth, and local businesses are reaping the benefits. As I’ve often said, Rhode Island’s accessibility is one of its best-kept secrets. By expanding T.F. Green, we’re trying to let the greater business community in on something we’ve known for years.

Rhode Island is at the crossroads of East Coast industry—just consider the density of people and businesses within a two-hour drive. It is perfectly positioned among one of the wealthiest pockets in the country. Even better, congestion is minimal, and the price point cannot be beat. An impressive talent pool has recognized all the possibilities of our intermodal transportation options, and they understand how important this accessibility is. In developing T.F. Green, we are creating opportunities to take our ever-expanding business community beyond the East Coast—not just across the country but across continents as well.


Because of this expansion, small businesses in particular now have the ability to extend their operations into markets that were once cost-prohibitive. By expanding opportunities for Rhode Island businesses, we are investing in their growth—and making Rhode Island all the more appealing for young entrepreneurs as they look to our state as a place to grow their own ventures.

These developments have not gone unnoticed by those beyond Rhode Island’s borders. T.F. Green Airport has been ranked among the best midsize airports in the country for its convenience, and it was recently included among Condé Nast Traveler’s annual Readers’ Choice list of the top 10 airports in the United States. We’ve won back several carriers that had departed from the marketplace years ago. We’re creating a center of transport that serves a wide range of individuals who see the benefits of the expanded hub, whether they’re businesses, tourists or vacationers. Not only has the newly expanded T.F. Green Airport made the world a smaller place, but it’s also made Rhode Island a more desirable one.

Here at the Chamber, connectivity is key. By continually improving T.F. Green Airport, we’re taking our business community to a whole new level of possibilities. 

Rhode Island: Where Entrepreneurs Come To Thrive


When is a startup no longer a startup? That’s a question that Rhode Island companies like Luca + Danni, Maternova and Lotuff Leather have had to seriously consider over the past year, as explosive growth has ensured they’re now among the fastest-growing businesses in the state.



Luca + Danni, a jewelry brand founded by CEO Fred Magnanimi in 2014 in honor of his late brother, has experienced especially significant growth: In May of this year alone, its e-commerce channel attracted seven figures worth of sales, resulting in over 25,000 orders placed and shipped. That’s a 1,300 percent increase in sales compared to May 2016.


Another Rhode Island success story can be found in Maternova, which provides obstetric and newborn technologies to private hospitals, governments, Ministries of Health, NGOs and healthcare professionals around the world. Founded in 2009 by CEO Meg Wirth, who bootstrapped the business for several years with the help of grants and seed funding, Maternova is now cash flow positive, scaling its business model, partnering with several corporates and smaller scale entrepreneurs and selling larger volumes of life-saving innovations. 



Luca + Danni and Maternova’s respective CEOs, Fred and Meg, will join Jonas Clark, associate director of Brown University’s Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, at a roundtable on Nov. 20 to explore entrepreneurship and innovation in Rhode Island. Ellen McNulty-Brown, CEO of Lotuff Leather, will also be on hand to talk about doing business in Providence. The handbag maker, which has been called “the Hermes of the U.S.,” is now carried in boutiques and department stores around the world, having grown from three to nearly 20 employees over a period of several years.



Fred, Meg and Ellen have all experienced firsthand how Rhode Island’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has grown fertile as a result of the availability of resources, mentors and seed money (in the form of tax credits, grants, angel investment groups and more). Thanks to our governor and legislature’s leadership on pension and Medicaid reform, Rhode Island has reined in structural costs and flattened business’ trajectories with a suite of new incentives aimed at growing businesses and creating jobs. And a strong and tightly connected network of partners and student programs support innovators on their way to the next milestone.


Further, the state has devoted numerous spaces, place and accelerators to innovation. One of these is a new innovation district, anchored by a renovated century-old power station that is now shared by Brown University (which houses all of its administrative offices there) and the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College (which have jointly opened a state-of-the-art nursing school inside the building).


Russell Carey, Brown’s executive vice president for planning and policy, told The New York Times this month: “It’s an unusual partnership—a land-grant school like U.R.I. and an institution like Brown. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

To learn more about entrepreneurship in Rhode Island, we invite you to attend the #WhyRI: Entrepreneurship, Innovation & You roundtable, being held on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, from 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. in the Petteruti Lounge at Brown University (75 Waterman Street Providence, RI 02912). Click here to RSVP. The roundtable is being sponsored by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Innovation Providence and Brown University’s Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship.


And, as always, know that you can count the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce among the resources readily available for entrepreneurs in the state. We are committed to sparking innovation and supporting new and aspiring Ocean State businesses at every stage of growth.



Business as a force for good!

Why the Best for Rhode Island Initiative Is the Best for Our Business Community

In today’s economy, consumers not only want the best goods and services available to them, but they also want to know that the businesses they support are creating their products in the most ethical way possible. That’s why the Chamber is proud to be a partner in the 2017 Best for Rhode Island initiative.

Best for Rhode Island was launched by Social Enterprise Greenhouse, and as part of SEG’s ongoing commitment to promoting social entrepreneurs, the program challenges businesses statewide to evaluate and enhance how their practices impact workers, the community and the environment.


Participants will follow standards centered on the B Impact Assessment, a trial developed by B Lab, and be given tips on how they can improve their workflows. B Lab is a nonprofit group devoted to using the power of business as a force for good. Its assessment program is the premier evaluation tool for measuring social and environmental accountability. If businesses meet B Lab’s performance standards, then they are recognized for their efforts by being labeled as a Certified B Corporation (B Corp).

To put it in comparable terms, a B Corp certification is akin to a coffee being certified as Fair Trade or milk being labeled USDA Organic. By using the B Lab assessment as an evaluation tool, Best for Rhode Island is laying the groundwork for our business community to achieve B Corp certification and improve our businesses’ standing in the broader marketplace. The initiative’s organizers put it best when they said businesses should not only strive to be the best in our state but also the best for it. And considering the track record of success for B Corp–certified businesses, taking steps to achieve B Corp status will only prove advantageous for Rhode Island’s business network.

During the Great Recession of 2007 to 2012, for example, B Corp businesses were 63 percent more likely to survive than the average small business. In the later years of this economic downturn, between 2010 and 2011, B Corp jobs grew by over 5 percent when most employment gains in the U.S. stayed flat.

Beyond their economic vitality, B Corp companies also provide excellent benefits for their employees. Retirement plans, flexible schedules, extended vacation time and healthcare for part-time workers are all among the benefits B Corp employees are likely to receive.

When I became its president in 2005, I wanted the Chamber to pursue three pillars of development. We would further a knowledge-based economy built on innovation. We would create our own flourishing entrepreneurial environment that was adjacent to Boston, an existing startup hub. And we would make clear through business attraction marketing that Rhode Island has all the commercial values and attributes that make it a thriving center of industry. I’m pleased to say that we’ve pushed the ball forward in each of these areas, and by supporting Best for Rhode Island we can continue this momentum.

In taking steps to improve not just the way products are created but also how employees are treated, B Corp–certified businesses are leading the pack in today’s innovation economy. By supporting the Best for Rhode Island initiative, the Chamber is making clear that this is the way of the future and creating a path for the state’s businesses to achieve B Corp certification. No longer is business simply about profits; it’s about the impact it has on consumers and workers. Best for Rhode Island is an initiative we’re proud to support as our state’s business community continues to pursue this worthwhile goal.

Awesome events for start-ups next week

   Danny Warshay, Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, has assembled world-class presenters to mentor and inspire.

Danny Warshay, Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, has assembled world-class presenters to mentor and inspire.

We are very fortunate to have great depth of talent in the entrepreneur's space in Providence. A lot of that leadership comes from the academic community. One of the most abundant sets of resources comes from the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship at Brown University. A couple of events coming week may be of interest to local entrepreneurs.

Monday evening's event focuses on podcasting and the art of sound and Wednesday's lunchtime book talk with the co-founder of Runa Tea (backed by Leonardo Dicaprio and other celebrities focused on sustainability) will focus on building a startup through lessons he learned in the Amazon.

October 23 @ 5:30 - 8:00 pm
Studio 1, Granoff Center for the Arts
Registration link/Facebook link

Join the Brown Arts Initiative and the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship for a panel discussion (5:30 – 7:00 PM) exploring the inception and evolution of sound ideas and the podcasting industry and the potential for sound and podcasts to act as avenues to launch initiatives, careers and businesses. You will hear from the following panelists:

  • —Torey Malatia, Co-creator of This American Life and current RIPR GeneralManager/President/CEO
  • —Morra Aarons-Mele ‘98, founder of WomenOnline and the Podcast and book, Hiding in the Bathroom
  • —Sam Harnett and Chris Hoff, founders and hosts of the podcast The World According to Sound
  • —Alan Nakagawa, Interdisciplinary sound-based artist, Artist in Residence at Great Streets/LA Mayor’s Office

Following the panel (7:00 – 8:00 PM), Danny Warshay, Executive Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship, will lead a workshop on bottom-up research, an essential entrepreneurial skill to help you find and define your target market.

Wednesday, Oct. 25; 12:00 - 1:30 PM
Petteruti Lounge, 75 Waterman Street

   Runa Founder and Brown University alumnus Tyler Gage gathers inspiration in the Amazon.

Runa Founder and Brown University alumnus Tyler Gage gathers inspiration in the Amazon.

Fully Alive tells the story of Tyler Gage ’08 and his immersion in Amazonian indigenous spirituality and its life-changing impact on the trajectory of his company, living a meaningful life, and making an impact in the world. Tyler built RUNA from a scrappy start-up into a thriving, multimillion-dollar company that has become one of the fastest-growing beverage companies in the United States. With the help of investors such as Channing Tatum, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Olivia Wilde, RUNA has created a sustainable source of income for more than 3,000 farming families in Ecuador who sustainably grow guayusa in the rainforest. Simultaneously, RUNA has built a rapidly scaling nonprofit organization that is working to create a new future for trade in the Amazon based on respectful exchange and healing, not exploitation and greed.

Contact for details.