rhode island

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.

"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.