New URI president discusses business and the blue economy during economic forum

PROVIDENCE The University of Rhode Island’s Business Engagement Center and the blue economy’s connection to the school’s curriculum, outreach and research was at the center of a virtual discussion held on Thursday by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

URI President Marc B. Parlange discussed the school’s relationship to business, industry and the local economy in speaking with Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, at URI’s bay campus in Narragansett. The discussion with Parlange was part of the Chamber’s annual Economic Outlook Forum.

Parlange, who began his tenure at URI on Aug. 1 as URI’s 12th president, said an important component is the school’s Business Engagement Center, which opened in 2013 under his predecessor, David M. Dooley, as a link to local industry, job creation and support of the local economy.

“It’s seen a lot of sustained momentum,” said Parlange. “It’s led by Katherine Hazard Flynn. She’s done a good job of building those partnerships that are going to be lasting and sustaining, both to have our students working with industry and the challenges to attack real world problems that are relevant and going to have application in the coming years.”

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“It’s a fantastic resource, because members of the business community might not understand the first steps in developing a relationship with a university,” said White. “So, that is really the premise of the Business Engagement Center.”

White said the center opens the door to federal dollars for businesses in need of funding for projects.

“It’s a point of entry with the university; it’s an open door,” said Parlange. “It’s a very efficient and collaborative center that will work to bring together the key partners from both inside the university, and build connections with colleagues outside of the university.”

Parlange said a big theme for the school involves the blue economy and the school’s relationship with building the state’s workforce through its graduating student body. The offshore wind industry is going to be an important piece of that economy, he said.

“We’re going to have thousands of turbines up and down the coast,” he said, noting that the school’s marine biology and fisheries scientists, sociologists and businesses will all play a role in the industry.

“Another group that has been very strong – a leading program – has been the underwater technology group at the school,” he said. “That will create new ventures, new jobs, and exciting new opportunities to expand research in the area.”

“The blue economy is where we have a true competitive advantage here in Rhode Island,” said White.

According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean’s ecosystem.

The chamber aired a video about the blue economy produced for the Graduate School of Oceanography to commemorate its 60th anniversary. It featured Paula S. Bontempi, dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography, who said that expanding the blue economy starts with education.

Bontempi said the relevance of the school’s program is to “prepare for the intersection between business and science.”

“There was a real interest in bringing a laboratory here to study the natural system of Narragansett Bay, which is so central to the state of Rhode Island and its economy,” she said, noting that study is being conducted on climate change.

“There are people here that are entrepreneurs, and want to start their own businesses, and I think if it weren’t for oceanographers, they wouldn’t have an idea of where those opportunities lie,” she said.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.