Dem gov hopeful Clay Pell unveils economic plan

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell unveils his economic plan at ShapeUp in Providence in April 2014. (photo: Scott Delsole/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell on Wednesday rolled out his first major policy proposal of the campaign, offering a laundry list of ideas on what he would do to improve the Rhode Island economy if he’s elected in November.

Pell, a 32-year-old political newcomer and grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, released the 20-page plan during a press conference at ShapeUp Inc., a Providence-based company that helps employers use social networking to make their workers healthier.

“The foundation of economic growth in Rhode Island is to invest in a first-class education system, rebuild and maintain high-quality infrastructure, and leverage what is unique about the Ocean State,” Pell wrote in the proposal, entitled “Seizing the Future.”

The economy and jobs are certain to be central issues in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, as Rhode Island continues to struggle with an 8.7% unemployment rate. Pell, who has kept a relatively low profile since kicking off his campaign Jan. 28, is facing Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Todd Giroux in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.

The Pell campaign’s ideas range widely in size, from $8.5 million in new state business-loan programs to “leverag[ing] his multilingual abilities” on behalf of local exporters. The campaign gave top billing to a new $2.5-million Hope Internship Program, which would help public high-school students intern with businesses or nonprofit organizations.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell unveils his economic plan at ShapeUp in Providence in April 2014. (photo: Scott Delsole/WPRI 12)
Pell unveils his plan. (photo: Scott Delsole/WPRI 12)

“Government must be a partner, not a barrier in people’s lives,” Pell wrote. “Government must support economic progress in the Ocean State.”

Pell outlined ideas for spurring growth in a number of specific industries – marine trades, defense contractors, manufacturing, health care and life science, technology and digital media, natural resources, arts and culture, and tourism – with a heavy emphasis on job training through the Governor’s Workforce Board of Rhode Island as well as new initiatives by Commerce RI, the former R.I. Economic Development Corporation.

Pell said small Rhode Island companies struggle to find seed capital of $50,000 or less to get started or startup financing of $100,000 or more. To address that, he proposes $5 million for existing loan programs such as the Slater Technology Fund; $3 million for a new small business microfinancing program at Commerce RI; and an additional $500,000 for the Innovate Rhode Island tech program.

The proposal was largely silent, however, on where funding would come from for the new initiatives. The Chafee administration is projecting growing deficits in the next few budget years as spending on health care and pensions rises while Twin River loses revenue to new facilities in Massachusetts.

Pell’s campaign said the candidate will be rolling out several more policy proposals “in the weeks ahead.” His top policy aide is Kelly Mahoney, who was Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s director of policy before she joined the Pell campaign.

Pell’s event came on a busy day for Democratic gubernatorial candidates, as both Taveras and Raimondo also talked up their ideas.

Taveras was joined by Central Falls Mayor James Diossa during a campaign stop there, where the mayor proposed an $800 million Ocean State Infrastructure Trust that would provide low-cost loans to cities and towns that need to undertake new construction or make repairs.

Separately, Raimondo was set to visit solar facilities at Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown to discuss her proposed “Green Bank” ahead of a Thursday forum where all the Democratic candidates will discuss their positions on climate change.

On the Republican side, two candidates are vying for the GOP nomination for governor: Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Barrington businessman Ken Block. Their economic policy proposals have focused more heavily on tax cuts and regulatory changes.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Sean Daly contributed to this report.

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