PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Governor Dan McKee and Rhode Island Commerce are highlighting the achievements over the past year that have supported businesses and the state’s overall economy. This includes an investment of nearly $50 million in key areas such as research and development, comprehensive support initiatives for small businesses, as well as job creation and talent retention initiatives.
“Businesses large and small serve as the backbone of Rhode Island’s economy and when they succeed, our state succeeds,” said Governor Dan McKee. “By funding Commerce programs and initiatives, we empower entrepreneurs, enhance infrastructure, and promote creativity which leads to growth, better job opportunities, and a more dynamic economy.”
“By supporting our businesses and our workforce, we help build a vibrant business community that is able to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing economy,” said Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Liz Tanner. “I am grateful for Governor McKee’s leadership and the support of the General Assembly in prioritizing initiatives that create an environment conducive to economic development through job creation, investment in infrastructure, increased access to capital and innovation.”
The Litter Tax was eliminated in 2023 providing more tax relief to Rhode Island businesses. Nearly $1 million a year was collected from local businesses under the litter tax. By eliminating the tax, businesses can reinvest that money in growing and sustaining their businesses.
The FY24 RI Ready state budget funded a reduction in the Tangible Tax. The tax is a property tax assessed by a municipality on all personal property owned and used in connection with a business. The legislation provides an exemption on the first $50,000 of all tangible property and would eliminate the tax for 75 percent of Rhode Island businesses, providing tax relief and relief from having to file the tax each year.
Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts received a coveted regional Tech Hub Designation from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) in October. We were one of only 31 named Tech Hubs in the nation and were one of only 11 to receive the designation and a Strategy Development Grant to be used to help the consortium increase local coordination and planning activities to strengthen the region’s capacity to manufacture, commercialize, and deploy critical technologies in the ocean tech field, which Rhode Island has been a leader in for decades. The designation now allows us to apply for Phase 2 funding of up to $70 million.
Through the U.S. Department of Energy, Rhode Island Commerce secured $2.9 million to provide audits, trainings, and grants to manufacturers aimed at limiting their waste/byproduct creation and shift to more energy efficient systems.
Nearly $300,000 was secured for a new statewide food plan as well as feasibility study to support the growth of second-stage food producers in state from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and private funders, Kendall Foundation and Rhode Island Foundation.
In 2023, the Wavemaker Fellowship Program added 262 new fellows. For the first time, the cohort included healthcare workers in addition to professionals working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and certain design fields. The Wavemaker Fellowship awards refundable tax credits of up to $6,000/year for up to four years. To date, Wavemaker has accepted more than 1,600 professionals into the program with a purpose of retaining skilled talent in Rhode Island.
Small Business Support
Innovation Voucher grants were increased from $50,000 to $75,000 in the fall of 2023. These grants are awarded for small business research and development conducted in partnership with a local “knowledge provider” (typically an institution of higher education) or in-house for manufacturers. In 2023, Rhode Island Commerce awarded 19 Innovation Vouchers totaling more than $1 million. Additionally, nearly $400,000 in Network Matching Grants, which support intermediary organizations working to provide Rhode Island’s small businesses with technical assistance, access to capital, or space on flexible terms, were awarded to six organizations and businesses. Those benefiting from both programs include Jaia Robotics, Guill Tool, Hope & Main, DesignxRi, and Social Enterprise Greenhouse.
Through the Small Business Development Fund (SBDF) Tax Credit, Rhode Island Commerce provided 15 loans totaling $4.4 million. The program was created in statute in 2019 and authorizes state tax credits for investment funds and their investors.
The Small Business Loan Fund (SBLF) Core Fund provided more than $3.8 million in loans to 12 Rhode Island businesses, creating 145 new jobs. Additional SBLF loan programs provided more than $4.1 million to 156 businesses in 2023.
In the fall of 2023, the Revolution Wind Project received final approval from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and broke ground in Quonset, Rhode Island. The joint venture between Orsted and Eversource will create hundreds of high-quality union construction jobs in Rhode Island and capitalizes on our state’s momentum as a leader in the offshore wind industry having the nation’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island. Once complete, the Revolution Wind project will provide 400 megawatts of clean, affordable offshore wind power to Rhode Island, and 304 megawatts of the same to Connecticut, helping each state reach its ambitious climate goals.
In 2023, Rhode Island Commerce awarded grants totaling $1.4 million for ten projects across Rhode Island through the Main Street RI Streetscape Improvement Fund. This competitive process awards grants to municipalities and economic development organizations to help revitalize main streets and downtown business districts to help generate commercial activity.
A further $650,000 was awarded to eight projects across the state through the Site Readiness Program, which funds site-specific planning improvements at local economic development projects and will support municipal technical assistance, helping to increase local economic activity.
Emergency Disaster Responses
In August, Rhode Island Commerce and the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced Economic Injury Disaster Loans were being made available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private nonprofit organizations in Kent, Providence, and Washington Counties that were affected by frost and freeze on May 18, 2023.
Also in August, Rhode Island Commerce responded to Block Island following the Harborside Inn fire providing Small Business Loan Fund (SBLF) emergency assistance in the amount of $90,000 to The Harbor Grill and Design with Care, which were directly impacted by the fire helping maintain 21 jobs. Governor McKee’s request for an emergency disaster declaration was also approved, unlocking further federal funding available to affected businesses through the SBA.
In September, Rhode Island Commerce visited businesses on Branch Avenue in Providence following flooding from severe storms. Through the SBLF, Rhode Island Commerce was able to provide $190,000 in loans to businesses Crazy Crab, Providence Bicycle, MK Taekwondo, and Urban Wine & Spirits helping maintain 24 jobs.
In December, following the sudden failure of the I-195 westbound span of the Washington Bridge, the State received approval from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for Governor McKee’s disaster declaration, unlocking low-interest, long-term, Economic Injury Disaster Loans for businesses affected.
Rhode Island was awarded $108.7 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) through the Broadband Equity access and Deployment (BEAD) Program. Total funding brought in for broadband is $134 million.
Increased Affordable Connectivity Enrollment (ACP), through targeted community partnerships, events, and outreach efforts, rose from 30% in February 2023 to 45% as of December 2023. This program provides a $30/month subsidy for internet service for qualifying residents across the state. Rhode Island has the highest enrollment rate in New England, according to Education Superhighway.
The FY24 state budget also created a Life Sciences Hub. The Hub will be the central entity and coordinating organization of life science initiatives on behalf of the State of Rhode Island. In addition to this new public body, the FY24 budget also includes Governor’s McKee’s proposal to invest $45 million in the life science sector for the development of much-needed wet lab incubator spaces. These funds would also be used to support grants, loans, business development and incubation services to grow this sector.
Completed a 10-month planning process, leading to unanimous approval of Ocean State Accelerates, as the state’s new Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) plan.