Chamber pulls out of EDC marketing deal

Posted 6/6/12

(Updated, 6:25 p.m.)

PROVIDENCE – The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce has pulled out of a planned partnership with the R.I. Economic Development Corporation to lure out-of-state, knowledge-based companies to Providence.

The business-attraction project, announced last December, was scuttled over the winter after Providence Mayor Angel Taveras warned that the Capital City was on the brink of bankruptcy, prompting questions about the timing of the effort, Chamber President Laurie White said.

“The two messages are at odds for now,” White said about bankruptcy and business attraction. “That is not to say we do not believe a very aggressive marketing effort would not be successful in another year. The timing was bad.”

White said the city, state and Chamber had all agreed to pull the plug on the project until the city’s resolved its fiscal problems.

EDC spokeswoman Judy Chong said Thursday that the Chamber had told the agency in late February or early March that it “was not ready to move forward with the partnership because of the financial condition of the city.”

“We would revisit the partnership issue at a later date when both parties are comfortable,” Chong said.

Under the public-private partnership, both the Chamber and EDC pledged $250,000 toward hiring a “business attraction officer,” and setting up a board of business leaders to oversee efforts to draw new companies to the fledgling Providence Knowledge District.

White described the planned project as a “targeted outreach” that would promote Providence’s “advantages as a startup environment and taking advantage of workforce and education systems.”

The idea was that executives would react better to pitches from peers than workers from a state agency.

“It was going to be a strategic outreach effort that the Chamber had been calling for for years,” White added.

White said the decision to pull out of the project had nothing to do with the recent controversy and turmoil at the EDC over the failed 38 Studios LLC loan guarantee. In the last month, the EDC has lost its executive director and six members of the board of directors in the fallout. Since the partnership never got off the ground, neither side spent any money on the project, White said.

The loss of the business attraction project is the latest speed bump for Rhode Island’s efforts to create a high-tech hub in Providence, including 38 Studios’ collapse, state funding for an advanced nursing center being excluded from the state budget and Brown University dismissing the staff of the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

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