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By Rhonda Miller
PBN Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE – Business, government and education leaders leaned toward optimism for the future of Providence and the state of Rhode Island at the Annual Economic Outlook Breakfast hosted by Sovereign Bank and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce at the Omni Providence Tuesday morning.
But incremental improvements aren’t enough for many of the leaders and they focused on need to seize opportunities and accelerate job growth.
“Why is our unemployment rate so high at 9.8 percent? We have to do a better job with our high unemployment, especially in our urban communities,” Gov. Lincoln D. Chaffee told the group of about 400 senior and mid-level executives.
“We have to invest in the building blocks of education, infrastructure and workforce development,” added Chafee.
Santander U.S. Country Head and Sovereign Bank President and CEO Jorge Moran said the global financial organization has a solid investment in Rhode Island. “Santander is very committed to Rhode Island. We want to be your partner for now and in the future,” Moran said.
Leaders in development and bioscience said the time is right for Rhode Island to focus on its assets to attract investment.
“We need to get out of the state and talk about what a spectacular resource we have, while encouraging local developers,” said Colin P. Kane, chairman of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission. He cited the attractiveness of waterfront property, the growing support for the state’s so-called “knowledge district” with medical and educational institutions and the chance for a variety of development ranging from small residential to expansive office space.
The outlook breakfast included a real-time survey of the business leaders on their views of the economic future of Rhode Island and the nation. Two-thirds think the national economy will be somewhat better in the next 12 months.
The group was divided on the outlook for the Rhode Island economy over the next year, with 42 percent of the opinion it would be somewhat better and 49 percent who think it will stay about the same.
The business leaders said their top challenges for the coming year are attracting and retaining new business, unemployment and job creation, and corporate and personal taxes.
Polled about plans for business spending in the next 12 months, 41 percent said they anticipate a slight increase and 37 percent said they plan no change in spending.