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Undoing our 'bad' business rep: Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo

Rhode Island is the only state where Microsoft is implementing a computer science-in-every-classroom program.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo
Source: Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo office
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo

Rhode Island was hit harder than most states by the decline in American manufacturing. As we lost thousands of jobs; we didn't do enough to position our state for growth in fast-growing, advanced industries; and put off decisions that would make Rhode Island competitive in the 21st century. As a result, we developed an unfortunate reputation as a bad place for business. But because of recent bold moves from our leaders, that's changing.

There's no silver bullet to solving our challenges, but my first two budgets, passed with great partnership from our legislature, took significant steps forward. We're cutting taxes and regulations; investing in infrastructure; creating strong, targeted economic development incentives; and making record investments in education and workforce development.

We're continually improving our business climate. Every time we've made a major change to our taxes in the last 15 years, it's been to lower them. In the last two years alone, we've eliminated the corporate energy sales tax, lowered the corporate minimum tax and cut the unemployment insurance tax on businesses. Many are surprised to learn Rhode Island has the lowest corporate tax rate in New England, with a convenient location between Boston and New York.

Making Rhode Island a better state for business started with fixing our cost structure in government so we could invest in growth. During my four years as treasurer, we restructured our pension system, cutting the state's unfunded liability almost by half and putting our retirement system on stronger footing. In my first year as governor, my team and I continued to find ways to reduce increasing budget costs. We championed Medicaid reform, saving $70 million this year, over $100 million next year, and more in those following, all without cutting eligibility. These two reforms provide security, stability and predictability for everyone living and doing business here.

"We lost thousands of jobs; we didn't do enough to position our state for growth in fast-growing, advanced industries; and put off decisions that would make Rhode Island competitive in the 21st century. As a result, we developed an unfortunate reputation as a bad place for business. ... That's changing."

We're making it easier to do business, too: We've eliminated 30 unnecessary licenses that hinder business growth and are currently reviewing all state regulations. The recently passed Administrative Procedures Act will be the state's largest regulatory reform in 60 years, cutting 15 percent of existing regulations and putting those remaining online in plain language. And we've reformed our economic development incentives to be some of the most competitive in America.

We know businesses can't compete without reliable infrastructure. So earlier this year, for the first time ever, we created a sustainable source of funding to rebuild our roads and bridges. And we're making major investments in our ports and airport.

We're also relentlessly focused on developing our state's talent pool. I hear all the time from businesses that they have jobs to fill but lack talent to fill them. So we've initiated new programs, like Real Jobs RI, to put employers in the driver's seat and train people for jobs that actually exist.

Big companies coming to Rhode Island

We've also invested heavily in innovation. We've got top universities, like Brown, with a top computer engineering program; and RISD, the best design school in the country. To encourage these students to stay, we created the Wavemaker Fellowship, which repays student loans for STEAM workers who stay or relocate here. We also launched Prepare RI, which allows all public high school students to earn college credits for free, making us one of only a handful of states to do so. And Microsoft is partnering with us to put computer science in every K–12 classroom in the state by December 2017. Rhode Island is the only place where Microsoft is implementing this statewide.

Because of these choices, businesses are taking a fresh look at Rhode Island. Recently, General Electric decided Providence is the right place to literally build the future — GE Digital will be building part of its Internet of Things platform, the future of their business, here.

There's a lot to do, but our government is working. Unlike other states avoiding tough decisions, we've shown we can work together, put aside the politics of procrastination and tackle the biggest issues. We have a track record of passing balanced budgets on time every year.

We're a new state from the one you've heard about before, and the world is noticing that Rhode Island is open for business.

— By Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo

Editor's note: This commentary was written before the release of the Top States 2016 data. The governor did not have knowledge of the rankings or the comprehensive data.