Guest Blogger: Martha Sheridan on The Fun Side of Rhode Island

Why RI: For Martha Sheridan, President and CEO of Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, Authenticity Is on Every Menu

by Martha Sheridan

I head up the team of 23 professionals who make up the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Center Bureau. We’re the lead destination marketing organization for the city of Providence, and we support meeting and convention sales efforts for the city of Warwick. This extraordinary team works to fulfill our mission to raise the profile of our destinations and encourage more people to visit for leisure trips or to book a meeting or convention in Providence, Warwick or at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

The first thing to know is that I’m a native Rhode Islander, born and bred in this great state. So, for me the best part of my job is getting to bring people here to experience it firsthand—whether by taking a visit, organizing or attending a conference, or starting or moving a business here. I am passionate about ensuring that everyone who travels here has the best experience possible, and in order to do that, I have to figure out our best “selling points.”

One Rhode Island-centric selling point I like to highlight is that here we have just one degree of separation—that is, when you need something done, it’s just one phone call away. And if that something involves a travel package or conference, our customers can pick up the phone and someone on our team can get it done seamlessly.

Then, of course, is that old real estate adage: location, location, location. Rhode Island has it! We may be the smallest state, but we are readily accessible by air, rail or car. The fact that we’re within a five-hour drive for one-third of the U.S. population is a great selling point when we’re talking to planners for large conventions—it’s really easy to get here, so expect great attendance. 

And I always point out that Providence is truly a city with all the amenities of a major metropolitan area but with a big helping of New England charm. Its moniker, the Creative Capital, speaks to the fact that we’re a location that features fantastic arts and cultural offerings, like great attractions on the historic East Side—including the RISD Museum or the fantastic public displays of art and murals throughout the city.

That creative concept also weaves itself through our amazing culinary scene—one of the attributes that Rhode Islanders are most proud of, and one that sets us apart from other destinations. It is just a fact of life here: Amazing first-class dining is available at a fraction of the cost you would find in many major cities. And unlike the restaurant landscape in a lot of major cities, in the Providence area, you won’t find a lot of chain restaurants. What you will find are a lot of chef-owned, truly unique culinary outlets.

In that vein, we pride ourselves on the fact that no job is too small and no customer is too small to get the first-class, hands-on service that makes a real difference. Whether you’re a 10-person meeting or 2,000-person meeting, we’re going to do everything necessary to ensure that your visit or program here is the best that it can possibly be. 

I’m involved at a national level with many organizations, so I hear feedback from all across the country, from San Francisco, New York City, Chicago. They tell me: “I love Providence. Providence is a great city!” These are people from major metropolitan areas that are recognizing how special this destination is, so when I’m asked, “Why Rhode Island?” I can answer that this is a place you have to see to believe. It’s what keeps us excited and energized, and it’s why we get overwhelmingly positive feedback from our visitors.

Those of us who know and love Rhode Island also know that there’s one thing that underlies all of the amazing things about this place: authenticity. My group knows at its core what our “product” is. Of course, we work to enhance it whenever possible, but what sets us apart as a destination is that we don’t have big, premade attractions. We maintain that authenticity, and we stay true to what our destination has to offer. Everything that we put out from our agency has an authentic voice, whether it’s on social media channels, or when we’re working to sell the destination to leisure visitors or meeting planners. 

Martha Sheridan is president and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. We invite you to explore our entire Why RI blog post series with Mike Lee, managing director of commercial real estate for Santander Bank; Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSRI; Dan Sullivan, president and CEO of Collette Travel; and Sandy Parrillo, president and CEO of Providence Mutual.


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.