Reforming the state agency at the heart of the 38 Studios LLC loan guarantee has been as deliberate, modest and incremental as the video game company’s collapse was sudden and spectacular.
Since proposals for the dissolution of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation began last summer, the agency has instead evolved, becoming smaller, more streamlined, slower moving and more risk averse.
Surrounded by calls for urgent change, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee has twice nominated new EDC leaders with previous experience inside the agency.
Although far from an outsider, the latest nominee, Marcel A.Valois, adds the distinction of having been one of the leading voices for EDC change last year.
The former vice president of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island, Valois co-authored “Reboot the RIEDC,” the EDC report that suggested breaking the agency down into parts, including a strategy office in the governor’s office and a university-supported research arm.
Some of the suggestions in the report have already formed the basis for piecemeal changes at the EDC, but according to Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger, Valois’ appointment should not be taken as an endorsement of the other structural changes suggested.
“I believe the nomination is a demonstration that the goal is more important than the structure,” Hunsinger said about whether [Valois] agrees with the governor’s vision that the EDC should create an environment where businesses can grow.
Chafee’s position that the EDC was never fundamentally broken means significant structural changes to the state’s economic-development apparatus have always been more likely to come from the General Assembly.
In the Senate, a bill put forward by Sen. James Sheehan, D-Narragansett, follows Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council suggestions to rebrand the EDC the R.I. Commerce Corporation and establish a wide series of performance measures, goals and reporting requirements for financial programs.
The new agency would have to comply with state purchasing laws and submit annual reports on how each loan or guarantee is meeting tightened underwriting standards.
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