Since being sworn in as the governor of Rhode Island in January 2011, my No. 1 priority has been to build an economy in our state where good companies can succeed, grow and thrive. Similarly, many other states have faced our challenges, but I am pleased to say that we are headed in the right direction, and every day, more businesses are creating good, well-paying, safe and secure jobs for Rhode Islanders.
Despite our small size, we can have a big impact—and we are doing it by relying on sound fundamentals. In other words, there are no shortcuts or special deals.
To help businesses grow and succeed, we have a simple plan. We're capitalizing on our assets and building world-class infrastructure. We're working diligently to educate a 21st-century workforce. We're leading a state government that will help businesses in our state grow and succeed. It's a simple formula that we know will improve our economy and bring more jobs to Rhode Island.
The plan to grow Rhode Island's economy is already in full swing. We are investing more in our infrastructure and finding permanent ways to finance preventive maintenance on our roads and bridges. Another key element of our infrastructure is our leading access to broadband. Rhode Island ranks No. 3 in the nation in broadband coverage and No. 1 in broadband speed.
The assets that we're capitalizing on are also extremely important. For example, Rhode Island's Quonset Business Park (the site of two former naval installations) is now one of the premier business parks in New England and one of the largest in the Northeast. Quonset is home to more than 9,100 full- and part-time jobs and 175 companies, and its Port of Davisville is the seventh-largest auto importer in North America. Auto imports at Davisville rose 14 percent in 2012, making it a record-breaking year with more than 216,000 autos arriving at the port via sea, rail and truck.
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In addition to the success we have seen at the auto-port, Rhode Island has a robust defense industry. Despite the challenges that sequestration has put on many government contractors, we anticipate extended job growth from some of the largest defense companies here, including General Dynamics' Electric Boat.
Other assets include more than 21 acres of downtown space that will be redeveloped as a result of the relocation of Route I-195. Newport will host the Volvo Ocean Race for the first time after being named the only U.S. stop on the route for the 12th edition of sailing's premier round-the-world challenge in 2014-15.
An environment where businesses can grow also means providing them with a workforce that can make their companies stronger. That's why educating a 21st-century workforce is also one of our state's top priorities. Since fiscal 2011, Rhode Island has provided an additional $79.3 million toward its education system and initiated a $17.2 million investment over five years to improve vocational schools.
The Governor's Workforce Board has provided $3 million for training and internship programs throughout the state, and Rhode Island was one of six states awarded two grants from the federal Race to the Top program. The state will invest $50 million over four years to improve early learning and development opportunities, and $75 million over four years for schools, educators and student support in adopting rigorous standards and using data to inform school decisions.
Most importantly, we want an environment where businesses know that Rhode Island's state government is working for them. That starts by creating a level playing field for all. Decisions that have an effect on the business community need to be made based on data—not by special deals. To hear directly from Rhode Island businesses, I am holding regular community business forums throughout the state to learn from companies and employers that are putting Rhode Islanders to work.
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There is more that we can and should do to assist businesses. We need to cut more red tape, which is why I initiated the first review of all regulations to determine the impact on small business. I am also pushing for a streamlined local permitting process to assure efficiency and consistency, so that companies can concentrate on expanding their business.
The state agencies that are focused on helping businesses are also doing their part to improve the business climate here. Recently, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp.'s (RIEDC) Small Business Loan Fund program reduced its loan rate from 7.5 percent to 5.75 percent, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is working on permitting processes that are more responsive to business.
The effort to build a world-class infrastructure, educate a 21st-century workforce and create a more effective state government is paying off. The latest employment numbers show Rhode Island's largest employment levels since February 2009.
Rhode Island is committed to building a strong economy where businesses can grow and thrive, while providing good jobs for Rhode Islanders. It will be sound fundamentals, and the companies that believe in them, that perpetuate our success.
—By Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee
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