Lisa A. Bastian (Dec/Jan 10)
In October 2009, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Rhode Island had posted the third-highest unemployment figure - 12.9 percent - of all 50 states. But on a positive note, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation's (RIEDC) Business Development team is now working on landing more than 40 expansion and/or attraction projects. This activity has the potential to develop into an estimated 2,000 new jobs for the state's one million residents. Incrementally, the number of new success stories is indeed growing. They include the expansion of Fidelity Investments - a project that added 500 new jobs - and the relocation of the corporate headquarters of United Natural Foods to Providence, specifically to a "green" rehabbed former mill.
Rhode Island's five traditional core industries are manufacturing, financial services, tourism, marine trades, and the defense industry. Many Rhode Island companies are taking knowledge learned from those core competencies and moving them to non-traditional and evolving industries. For example, some firms are using their marine trades experience to start an ocean technology sector. And jewelry manufacturers are transitioning their skills to advanced manufacturing of medical devices or other technology products.
One new economic growth area is the "green" economy, specifically in the categories of wind power, R&D and innovation, policy, manufacturing, and energy efficiency. The state's Renewable Energy Fund supports local job growth in renewable energy projects, and is a sign of the changing times on how to attract new investment. This realignment plan is working. For instance, Deepwater Wind uses state-of-the-art foundation technology that allows wind turbines to be cost-effectively deployed in water depths up to 150 feet. Rhode Island chose the firm to build an energy project that is expected to eventually produce 1.3 million megawatt hours per year of renewable energy (15 percent of all electricity used in the state) RIEDC says Deepwater Wind plans to establish a hub of "green" manufacturing at Quonset Point, a former military base, and bring hundreds of high-wage jobs to the state.
Small Rhode Island businesses in particular find assistance through a small business tax-stimulus program and the "Every Company Counts" series of workshops supporting new and struggling small enterprises. Furthermore, the state's entrepreneurial spirit is celebrated through the new Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship designed to support the commercialization of new ideas. The Science & Technology Advisory Council, a branch of the RIEDC, supports innovative companies. On the work force development front, the Community College of Rhode Island 21st Century Workforce Commission is training community college students for the jobs of the future. And RIEDC is helping train employees to staff a new CVS pharmacy call center anticipated to create 300 to 400 new jobs in 2010.
Tourism remains a vibrant industry, as the state is a desirable place for leisure and business visitors from the Northeast and many international cities. In 2010, the Educational Travel Conference should draw over 500 travel planners and tour operators who sell adult educational travel programs to affinity groups and educational associations. RIEDC estimates this market segment generates 100 million dollars in sales annual sales. Also in 2010, the Discover New England International summit will welcome over 80 international tour operators representing 10 nations. This event generates travel packages that will later be marketed all over the globe.