From the State House
Greetings friends and neighbors. As I speak with many of you around town, you echo my belief that Rhode Island needs an improved approach to economic development and become more “business friendly.”
The House of Representatives held an economic conference with input from business leaders to talk about the challenges for small business and to make recommendations. Several spoke about the need for a state strategic plan on economic development. Every business has a strategic plan – it’s a roadmap to success. We also heard from Massachusetts and Connecticut economic development commissioners on what is working well in their states. That was insightful.
Let’s face it: Rhode Island’s ad hoc methodology of dealing with the economy in a one-off approach isn’t working. As a result, the House and Senate unveiled economic development packages. The House bills include establishing an economic development planning council, which will write a four- year strategic plan for the state. Every four years the state must have a strategic plan to develop and implement economic policy.
Government doesn’t create jobs – government creates policy for business to create jobs.
Business needs access to capital. One of the bills, which I’m the sponsor, is similar to Connecticut’s small business express loan program. Rapid Rhody is a small business loan program that provides more timely access to capital to employers with fewer than 100 employees. Small business is the lifeblood of this state. Economic development isn’t luring some big company to Rhode Island as a panacea. It’s shoring up the 35,000 small businesses already in this state. Money goes where money is treated right. This program will make capital available within 90 days as long as the company operates in Rhode Island, has been doing business for one year, is current on all state taxes, and maintains its business and jobs within the state for at least two years after the loan.
Government has to get out of the way. The state regulatory system must be clear, predictable and reliable. A business owner must be able to understand (clear), be able to bank on a timeline (predictable), and information must be reliable or it will cost time and money. The office of management and budget, under the direction of sparkplug Leslie Tato, is reviewing the 1,652 state regulations (Yikes!) with an economic cost analysis as they affect small business with the intention to rescind some of the restrictions.
Another important bill is re- establishing the historic tax credit. I’ve been working with my colleague, Rep. Jay O’Grady, and GrowSmartRI. The program not only puts people back to work, but creates revenues for cities and towns. One giant company can’t soak up all of the credits because there is a $5 million cap on each project. As I’ve mentioned to you before, when this program was in place from 2002 to 2006, it pumped more than $535 million of private investment into our economy.
There’s another bill restructuring the EDC so there’s economic analysis before decisions are made (i.e., 38 Studios) establishing the commerce corporation. It would include a business development center to match businesses with a contact person to walk them through the process of starting a business, relocating a business, and navigating state regulations. It sounds like a concierge service: one-stop shopping. The personal assistant assigned to the business is critical. We really have to get that right.
Finally, Rhode Island has a bill that allows employers to pay employees bi-weekly. This is consistent with business practices across the country. Rhode Island was the only state not allowing bi-weekly pay.
There’s no doubt something substantial must be done to create jobs in this state and improve the economy. We need to send a message to everyone in Rhode Island and across New England that Rhode Island is breathing new life into the business community. Please call 423-0444 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero serves District 74 (Jamestown, Middletown) in the state House of Representatives.