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.

"RI's Promise" Is A Keeper

As is well known, our key focus at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce is economic development on behalf of business. And today we wanted to step out and make a few comments publicly about what’s now a universal issue facing general business and entrepreneurs everywhere. And that’s the demand for talent.

America’s business community is feeling optimistic. They’re in an expansion mode. They’re hiring. They’re carefully calibrating what they need to do and where they need to be to produce the most profitable outcomes.

Likewise, the Rhode Island business community is feeling optimistic about the future, and they’re hiring. Our local entrepreneurial environment has never been stronger, particularly due to the high concentration of elite colleges and universities in the area. Yet, the need for even more talent remains intense.

When talking about issues, I like to come at it from a different angle. I point to the “best practice economic development literature” for policy guidance. I think that’s important because it sets context. Area Development and Chamber Executive are two of the most helpful.

Area Development Magazine -- each year in the first quarter -- ranks the policy issues of most importance to American business when it comes to site selection and business facilities planning. In other words: jobs, opportunity, employment, growth. The number one and number two issues. What are they? Quality infrastructure and quality workforce.

American Chamber of Commerce Executives tells us what chambers and business leaders all across this country and internationally are actually doing to drive economic performance. ACCE reports that in 2016, for the first time ever, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher (36%) outnumber workers with a high school diploma or less (34%).  The face of the workforce is changing.  Everyone knows it.

I bring this up because it shows the degree to which this is an issue nationwide and as an object lesson for RI that competitor states are going at it full bore. Our businesses --- from start-up through mid-cap and Fortune 100 --- are competing with businesses in other communities that are getting their talent pipeline in order real fast.

We want to say very clearly that we support Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Island's Promise proposal to make us a national leader in college affordability and college completion. This emphasis on talent development is squarely in line with the Chamber’s views on how to cultivate a stronger business climate. Rhode Island employers are creating jobs, and we want those jobs to go to Rhode Island kids.

We are particularly impressed with the central themes of Rhode Island's Promise: reducing the loan debt burden on students and families; improving on-time graduation for students; driving desirable enrollment at Rhode Island College, the Community College of Rhode Island and the University of Rhode Island; and increasing the concentration of our college educated workforce.

We have shared this message in testimony before the House and Senate Finance committees. And we’re teeing it up again today to remind us all to stay focused on the big picture.  We must produce more college graduates. As a nation, we can't afford not to.