economy now ri

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.

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. 

UPDATE: Software Jobs Open at eMoney

FinTech company eMoney is settling in to their new Providence home at 100 Westminster Street and quickly getting to know the local tech and entrepreneurial community.  “It’s been amazing . Everyone here has been so welcoming,” said HR Director Tessa Raum.  

Tessa shared her staffing plans with us today.  “We’re hiring! We’re looking to bring on 50 new roles by the end of 2017, and more by the end of 2019.” 

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Software engineers and software developers are very much in demand by e-Money, with competitive average salaries. Entry level roles as well as positions with three to five years’ experience are being offered.

The company builds software as a solution in the wealth management sector. Their vision is to “drive innovation in FinTech by creating and delivering technology solutions that help advisors and firms of all sizes achieve greater efficiency, scale, competitive edge, and growth in their businesses.”

Tessa described the culture at eMoney as “Google-like,” with strong emphasis on work/life balance. “We’re serious and passionate about our business. We want our talent to love the people they work with and to add value to our clients.”

eMoney  has been in business for 17 years with 455 employees in LaJolla, California and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and our partners at Commerce RI have been working with company’s human resources executives in Providence to help link them with local talent from our preeminent colleges and universities. The opportunities are diverse and exciting. 

To learn more about the jobs now available in Rhode Island, check out their hiring site here.