More than five years after the Great Recession hit, Rhode Island’s economy is finally showing real signs of recovery. New businesses are opening, housing markets are starting to recover and the unemployed are starting to find jobs. But we still have much to do. Many of our fellow residents are still facing hard times and the state now faces a potential $128 million deficit, which could result in deep cuts in the very programs we need to jump-start economic growth.
The legislature and the governor should do everything in their collective power to support critical revitalization programs. At the same time, we know the private sector must step up and help keep the recovery going, particularly in neighborhoods lagging the rest of the state.
We at Citizens Bank are ready to do our part. Earlier this year, we announced our new Growing Communities initiative, which will supply $120,000 in grants to innovative programs already at work revitalizing neighborhoods.
Originally launched in Cleveland in 2010, the Growing Communities initiative has achieved tremendous success by leveraging existing assets in communities and helping them revitalize their neighborhoods. These investments can come in a variety of forms, such as efforts to support small business and job creation or to encourage local businesses to make an area more livable. Often this can mean façade and block beautification, park cleanups, public art enhancements, access to local farm systems and nutritious food, and providing financial education and health-information resources.
Our first foray was so successful that we quickly expanded the program to Detroit and New Hampshire and this year we are bringing it to Massachusetts and, of course, Rhode Island. There are so many great ideas already brewing in our city and talented people ready to work on them, which is why we are partnering with the Local Support Initiatives Corporation (LISC) to invest in projects that will contribute to the long-term resiliency of neighborhoods like Olneyville in Providence.
Few neighborhoods are in greater need of a helping hand than this community, which is on the verge of true turnaround. Now home to an eclectic array of ethnic restaurants and a burgeoning arts scene, it nonetheless faces difficulties. The median family income for the neighborhood is just over $19,000, substantially below the city average. In addition, more than 40 percent of families live in poverty while nearly one in four families receive a form of public assistance.
A mix of public and nonprofit initiatives are already helping Olneyville revitalize itself. That’s the good news. The more troubling reality is that public cuts are coming, which is where the private sector must do its part. Working with LISC, $60,000 will be dispersed to the existing programs working to improve the quality of life in Olneyville. An additional $60,000 will be distributed among nonprofits, collaboratives and small businesses as competitive grants. The goal is to not only support the great work already in existence, but to encourage job creation and the development of new businesses that will ensure the long-term endurance of the neighborhood.
Providence has an abundance of creative entrepreneurs, and Growing Communities will be a conduit for them to access the funding needed to improve the quality of Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood. In addition, our colleagues will be out in Olneyville full force volunteering, working with small businesses, and supporting the neighborhood in any way they can.
As a lifelong resident here, I am committed to the idea that we can solve the problems facing our neighborhoods together. Successful public/private-sector partnerships like Growing Communities will strengthen our city by establishing clear goals that will demonstrate measureable success. Citizens Bank looks forward to investing in partnerships that have a strong impact on the neighborhood, spur additional investment and demonstrate measureable and meaningful results.
I believe in our state, and, in particular, that local-based initiatives like Growing Communities are essential to creating vibrant, economically dynamic neighborhoods. As Providence Mayor Angel Taveras recently noted, the city is recovering and with Growing Communities, we’re trying do our part to be a leader in that recovery. •
Ned Handy is president of Citizens Bank Rhode Island and RBS Citizens.