The driving force behind the privatization of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation in 1995 was a desire to separate the Ocean State’s volatile and corruption-prone politics from efforts to grow its economy.
Seventeen years and a few very bad economic turns later, the state could soon reverse course and centralize responsibility for steering business activity back in the hands of its top elected official.
For the second time in four years, an independent analysis – this one by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council – has found Rhode Island’s economic-development policies directionless and the quasi-state EDC increasingly top-heavy, inefficient and ineffective.
And although the structure of the current EDC is designed to include private-sector involvement in steering the state economy, Ocean State business leaders frustrated with the state’s repeated economic false starts are leading the push for change.
“This [report] laid bare to the public an issue we have known for some time: no one in the state wakes up every day thinking about business development,” said Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, about the RIPEC report. “It shows very clearly that the state has no economic strategy and no research function and doesn’t do the full-blown data analysis one would expect in a state economic-development agency.”
White said she supported the RIPEC report’s recommendation to subsume the EDC into a newly formed Executive Office of Commerce that would also contain the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, R.I. Department of Business Regulation and R.I. Department of Labor and Training.
“We have been driving home the fact that economic development is not an afterthought and everything else in the government sphere is dependent on a strong economy that can grow and generate revenue,” White said. “We agree that [commerce] should be a cabinet-level function that sits alongside the governor.”