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The Why Behind the WAVE

The Why Behind the WAVE August 27, 2015

Rhode Island can no longer afford to sweep its economic plight under the proverbial rug. We can no longer afford to be meek, mild, passive, unsure or inactive. Rhode Island, it is time to act: on bold ideas, with confidence, with purpose, and with the future in mind.

Much has been done since 2012 to study Rhode Island’s economy and understand why the Ocean State lags behind other states in economic prosperity and job creation. Industries that were once vibrant are challenged by a shrinking workforce, gaps in critical skills needed to spur productivity and meet business demands, and regulatory pressures that create roadblocks to business creation and expansion.

One leading indicator of economic growth is spending on construction, and on that mark, Rhode Island lags. According to real estate industry group NAIOP, while Rhode Island ranks 43rd in population, it ranks:

  • 45th in overall construction
  • 47th in retail/entertainment construction
  • 50th in warehouse construction

Rhode Island is punching below, not above, its weight; changing this reality will require a thorough understanding of our major growth drivers, as well as a focused effort to improve them.

It is time for Rhode Island to stop its decline and turn the ship around.

Since 2000, Rhode Island has seen a total population increase of just a half of a percent, whereas the national trend has been more substantial. In addition to a stagnant overall population, the state has seen an increase in the 45-69-year-old age group and a decrease in the 20-44-year-old age group, indicating that what little growth we have comes from the non-working population. We are not helping enough people build the skills they need to compete, or keeping those with valuable knowledge and skills. That changes now. Rhode Island is implementing strategies for retaining the working age population and attracting new, skilled workers to the state, such as incentives for more college students to remain in Rhode Island. We don’t want Rhode Island to be just a place to retire; we want Rhode Island to be a vital place to live and to work.

High unemployment and anemic job creation is plaguing this beautiful state. While we have seen improvements in our unemployment numbers – 5.8% in July of this year – we still fall a half of a percent behind the national average. We aren’t creating enough jobs, and those we are producing are in low-wage, low-growth sectors. Rhode Island’s rate of growth in productivity – measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per worker – is approximately three percent less from 2001 to 2013 compared to the rest of the country.

Our competitors are quickly learning how to mitigate these factors in their local economies and are not letting up. We are playing catch-up, but we are working hard to earn our slice of the economic pie.

Change won’t be easy or happen overnight, but we ground our anchor in hope and optimism, learn from our mistakes, and push forward. We now set ourselves on a path to greater prosperity.

Rhode Island’s comeback will occur in phases—each with the twin goals of building advanced industries that can sustain high-wage job growth and anchoring on parts of our economy where we already have strategic advantages.

Governor Raimondo has passed a realistic, straightforward, simple and effective jobs-focused action plan with a long-range view in the Ocean State WAVE, giving Rhode Island the tools it needs to change the economy for the better. This plan calls for four grand steps:

  1. Develop the state’s Workforce
  2. Attract Advanced industries and innovation
  3. Invest in a state brand marketing campaign, targeting both recreational and business Visitors
  4. Expand Enterprise and investment

Within each step, however, there are many smaller actions to complete Rhode Island’s comeback, which we will dive into in future posts.

The WAVE represents a substantial step in developing a broader economic strategy. It lays important tracks for us to follow and provides us with key tools. But it is not the only step: we accompany it, in this fiscal year’s budget, with investments in school construction and infrastructure, alongside regulatory reform and other measures. We need to learn from past mistakes and have the courage to move forward together.

Rhode Island lags behind every other economic player in New England and the Northeast, and we are tired of always coming in last place. It is time to dig deep, invest in our comeback and keep our eyes on the goal: greater prosperity in our state.

Let’s put Rhode Island on the map and keep it there.

Categories: Projects, WAVE
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