RI economy

Strong Momentum

Rhode Island Is Growing Jobs—and Talent

Rhode Island is cultivating jobs at an impressive pace—the state’s unemployment rate is down to 4.1 percent, its lowest since 2000. And Rhode Island has added 21,000 more jobs in the past few years. The state has seen growth in multiple sectors; important industries such as biotech, advanced manufacturing, financial tech, clean energy and much more.

Some of the factors that have contributed to the state’s improved economy include:

Businesses coming in strong. Thirty businesses have moved in or expanded in Rhode Island. Its economic upswing was a large factor in Rhode Island’s stratospheric rise—from 33 up to No. 9 in Business Insider’s list of strongest state economies in 2018. The state actively seeks out creativity by emphasizing innovation with multiple initiatives, including the Innovation Voucher program, Industry Cluster Grants and its Innovation Campus.

Deep and wide talent pipeline. The value of a strong talent pipeline isn’t lost in Rhode Island. Top-notch universities such as Brown, Rhode Island School of Design, University of Rhode Island and more help to ensure that the talent pool runs deep. It recently became the fourth state in the nation to offer free community college study to residents. And it has created a program to relieve student loan burden for up to four years for qualified people who work in the state after they graduate.

Amazing quality of life. Rhode Island wants people to thrive in the state. The state’s work-life balance is unparalleled—in addition to its world-class academic institutions, it offers an eclectic culinary scene, fantastic microbreweries, amazing outdoor activities, historical sites, cultural institutions and so much more. Plus, it’s close to key metropolises Boston and New York City.

In Rhode Island, we develop young talent in STEM and cultivate a great quality of life that allows for a healthy work-life balance. The growing number of advanced-industry companies thriving in the state creates a perfect synergy for that talent to remain in the state to work, play and live.

Margaret Hartigan, co-founder and CEO of digital wealth management platform Marstone, had this to say about operating in Rhode Island: “There’s such a strong creative and artistic presence here, which means we can capture unexpected ideas and out-of-the-ordinary concepts that ensure we’re always on the cutting edge of our industry. But we also can get to Boston in under an hour if we need to, so we benefit from easy access to the financial center of the Northeast.”

These achievements have been possible because the state has strategically focused on both businesses and the people who keep those businesses running. Creating jobs for now while investing in the future—expanding skill sets so that the next generation will be prepared for the careers of tomorrow—is the strategy behind Rhode Island’s success.

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.

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. 

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.

Providence Tops On East Coast For Millennial Talent

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Why is Providence suddenly turning heads in the race for talent?  Investors like GE Digital, Virgin Pulse, Hasbro, Johnson & Johnson and more are tapping into a plentiful and resourceful workforce. The vibe here is eclectically and fashionably urban. Plus, Providence has lots of swag in these categories, too:

  • design-thinking mindset
  • spectacular foodie scene
  • access to high-speed rail
  • easy to navigate international airport
  • ivy league academic institutions
  • affordability
  • and just plain fun!

But don't take our word for it. Check out this piece from @Inc: See why #Providence is one of the top cities attracting #millennials!