Growing manufacturer says it may leave RI over Providence city ordinance

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – A fast-growing local manufacturer that employs about 150 people in Rhode Island is threatening to leave the state because of an obscure city ordinance banning its products in downtown Providence.

Dryvit Inc., founded in 1969 in a Cranston garage and now based in West Warwick, is a leader in the Exterior Insulation Finishing System (EIFS) industry, a type of product put on the outside of a wall that can help make buildings more energy efficient. The company says its material is on millions of square feet of buildings worldwide, from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to the new Wynn Casino being built outside Boston.

Dryvit President and CEO Mike Murphy says the company’s growth has picked up over the last two years thanks to a new imitation brick product, NewBrick, that is selling well. The company has 375 employees at its six North American locations, including about 150 at two facilities in Rhode Island, more than double the number it had in the state two year ago.

“Sometime in the next 24 months, we’re going to have to make a decision as to what we’re going to do,” Murphy told Eyewitness News. “Are we going to continue to invest in Rhode Island, or would it be best to maybe move somewhere else?” He added, “We’d love to stay here. But right now it’s really, all options are kind of out there for us. We’re considering potentially going somewhere else.”

The reason Dryvit is wavering on Rhode Island, according to Murphy: a 2012 Providence city ordinance that prohibited EIFS on the first floors of buildings downtown and discouraged their use on upper floors. He said the ban is “primarily unique to Rhode Island,” noting the company does projects in other major cities including New York and San Francisco.

“Our business is so vibrant around the country,” he said. “But right here in Rhode Island, not so much.”

Dryvit executives secured a meeting with Providence officials last month to discuss the ordinance, and came away with mixed feelings. “It’s interesting, because no one seems to know where this stuff comes from and why they’re saying this – ‘Eh, I’m not sure, maybe check with someone else,'” Murphy said. “And so we’ve been getting a little bit of a runaround on that.”

David Salvatore, the Providence City Council’s newly elected president, noted in an interview that the ordinance was enacted more than five years ago as part of a new set of rules for downtown development. “It was publicly vetted,” he said. “I have not heard any complaints from businesses or developers in the downtown area, or any of our neighborhoods.”

Salvatore said he conducted some preliminary research that suggested the ordinance was put in place because the city planning department had concerns about the durability of products like Dryvit’s. He also noted that the ban only applies to first floors downtown, not elsewhere in the city.

Still, Salvatore said city leaders are willing to take another look at the issue. “I’m looking forward to hearing from this business,” he said. “We’ll do some more research on our end and if this is a conversation starter then I think that’s the direction we have to move in.”

A spokeswoman for Mayor Jorge Elorza echoed Salvatore in an email, saying: “Building and zoning regulations are put in place for various reasons, including building aesthetics and durability.” She added, “Any regulation change would require council approval after review by the planning commission. No such review is before them at this time.”

It’s unclear whether there would be significant opposition to changing the ordinance and allowing Dryvit’s products downtown. Leaders from three local groups that pay close attention to the building code – the Providence Preservation Society, the Providence Revolving Fund and the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects – all said they had no position on the ordinance currently.

Separately, a spokesman for the R.I. Commerce Corporation said officials there have also been in touch with Dryvit about its future in Rhode Island. He declined to offer further details.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Diana Pinzon contributed to this report.