Economy

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.

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. 

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.

Then
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

Now
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.