Governor Chafee convened a meeting of business leaders and influential policy wonks at the R.I. Economic Development Corporation on Thursday afternoon to share his vision for fixing economic development in Rhode Island post-38 Studios.
Chafee’s message was twofold: I’m hard at work on economic development, and I want your support for my ideas. The governor clearly hopes to have the nine influential individuals who attended pushing for the same changes moving forward.
Attending the EDC meeting with Chafee were John Simmons, head of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council; Bob DiMuccio, president and CEO of Amica; Jon Duffy, chairman of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce; Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of The Rhode Island Foundation; Gary Sasse and Marcel Valois, veteran policymakers; Ron Machtley, Bryant University’s president; Janet Raymond, senior vice president at the Providence Chamber; and George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.
Steinberg described the meeting as “a dialogue” that was “very positive,” saying afterwards: “I think the consensus was, 75% to 80% everybody agrees on.”
Chafee told the group his three priorities for improving the economy are education, infrastructure and work force development, and the governor argued his administration is already taking positive steps. He also detailed what he described as rapid progress being made in fixing the EDC by Paul McGreevy, director of the Department of Business Regulation, whom Chafee has indefinitely reassigned to oversee the agency following the resignation of Keith Stokes.
“We’ve stabilized it here, and good things are happening,” Chafee said of EDC. “It’s methodical. We’re not naïve about the challenges, but it’s steady and methodical.” McGreevy said he’s flattened the agency’s organizational chart and beefed up oversight of its loan programs.
There was broad agreement at the meeting that a high-ranking individual in state government needs to be tasked as the “focal point” for promoting and protecting commerce, according to Steinberg. Chafee said he is “very open” to the idea of making such an appointment, though it’s unclear whether he would add that position within the governor’s office or seek to create a new secretariat, as RIPEC proposed, which could require Senate confirmation.
RIPEC’s Simmons said he was especially pleased that Chafee is preparing to order a new independent study of Rhode Island’s business climate, which could recommend major changes to the state’s tax and regulatory structure.
Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger said that study could be completed within three to six months, soon enough for the governor to incorporate its ideas into his 2013-14 budget proposal. A separate study will put together an overarching economic development strategy for the state, possibly along the lines of what Massachusetts recently published [pdf].
Also at the meeting were Chafee cabinet members Charlie Fogarty and Michael Lewis, as well as gubernatorial staffers George Zainyeh, Peter Marino, Kelly Mahoney, Jamia McDonald and Christine Hunsinger. EDC deputy director Bill Parsons was also there.
Chafee’s office provided the meeting attendees with three documents. Two came from inside the governor’s office: a one-page statement of his economic development vision [pdf] and a three-page outline of his administration’s current activities and next steps to execute that vision [pdf].
The third handout was an academic study by Jeffrey Thompson, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute, called “Prioritizing Approaches to Economic Development in New England: Skills, Infrastructure, and Tax Incentives” [pdf].
• Related: Watch: Chafee’s economic development guru shares his ideas (Oct. 12)