Trends

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.

 

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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 EntrepreneurProvidenceRI.com 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 EntrepreneurProvidenceRI.com 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. 

 

Providence's Leaders Tell Its Economic Recovery Story

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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