PROVIDENCE – For many decades, one might say centuries, Rhode Island was known across the globe as a maker of things – clothing, boats and jewelry were only among the most famous of those things, but there was more.
But the turn of the century and then the Great Recession put a big dent in Rhode Island’s output and its reputation. The narrative for many has become how much less Ocean State manufacturers make than they once did. But the story is not that simple.
It is true that Rhode Island does not employ tens of thousands in the jewelry industry anymore, for example. But Tiffany’s largest U.S. manufacturing facility is in Cumberland and it employs hundreds making that iconic American company’s jewelry.
It is also true that the America’s Cup does not have a permanent residency in Newport anymore. But the City by the Sea, along with other East Bay communities, makes boats, masts, sails, and in their spare time, musical instruments.
Naval Station Newport is not what it once was either, with ships based there that defended U.S. interests on the high seas. But in North Kingstown, General Dynamics Electric Boat makes many of the submarines that perform the same tasks today.
The list goes on and on. Rhode Island is still home to makers.
As the second decade of the 21st century comes to a close, however, another challenge faces Rhode Island manufacturers. The workforce that made all that making possible is aging out, and it is becoming more difficult by the day to find and train their replacements. The old perception of manufacturing and construction as dirty, back-breaking labor doesn’t connect with the digital natives coming of age today. Few know that the same skills it takes to play massive multiplayer games online or to stay in touch with friends across the globe are often the same ones that modern manufacturers and contractors need going forward.
For all those reasons – to tell the stories of the companies making things here, to talk to the people who are making them, and to light a path to the next generation of manufacturing and construction workers – PBN is creating a special publication.
Titled “A guide to Stuff made and built in Rhode Island,” the book will include an overview of the health of the manufacturing and construction sectors in the state and talk about the many – and growing – routes to gaining employment in those businesses. We will showcase some of the “stuff” that Rhode Island is known for now (and some that may not be so well-known) as well as talk to the people making and building it.
Expect this special project to hit newsstands in October, to coincide with the national Manufacturing Month.
And if you, or a company you know, are making something that belongs on a list of iconic (or soon to be iconic) Rhode Island “stuff,” let us know via email, to email@example.com. We may add your contribution to the state’s output.
Mark S. Murphy is PBN’s editor. You can follow him on Twitter @PBNMurphy.