As head cheerleader for reinventing the state’s economy, Keith W. Stokes, the executive director of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, recently called the health and life sciences sector, which he dubbed “meds and eds,” a key economic engine for job growth driving Rhode Island’s recovery.
His boss, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, who had preceded Stokes at the podium at a recent conference, “The Rhode Island Business Environment: The Economy by the Numbers,” held on March 13 at Bryant University, offered his recipe for success: a renewed investment by the state in education, addressing the huge gaps in Rhode Island’s skilled, trained workforce, to be paid for in part by his proposed increase in the sales tax.
While Bryant economists at the conference agreed that the health care cluster in Rhode Island has great promise for future job growth, there is no consensus on the road map to get there – or on how best to overcome the skills gap.
Some Rhode Island private educational institutions are not waiting: Johnson & Wales University and New England Institute of Technology are already moving ahead, retooling their academic programs to meet the expected future demand in health care jobs.
Health care is currently the largest sector of Rhode Island’s economy, with nearly 67,000 employees, about 13 percent of Rhode Island’s workforce, and employment levels are expected to grow through 2018, according to Rick Brooks, the executive director of the Governor’s Workforce Board.
But Brooks cautioned that the playing field in Rhode Island is shifting.
“Changes in the health care sector – such as payment methods, health and wellness initiatives, rates of uninsurance, and medical advances in technology and pharmaceuticals – have begun to change how and where health care services are delivered,” he said.