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Raimondo's ideas would move R.I. forward

Providence Journal

Gov. Gina Raimondo got it right in her inaugural address when she said we “must foster an environment where businesses want to add jobs and where we support our workers. If we do that, if we rebuild this economy, everything is possible. And if we don’t, nothing else will matter.”

 A complex dynamic, simply communicated.

 Nothing else will matter if we can’t wrestle the vestiges of a bygone era to the ground and catch the next wave of discovery and opportunity. As leaders representing the voices of business and labor, we know that vast swaths of Rhode Island’s citizenry want to see a big jolt of something new.

 Today, we share our organizations’ strong support for the economic development themes outlined in Governor Raimondo’s budget proposal. We like creating a continuum where each concept builds on and reinforces another. The metaphor the governor has chosen -- unleashing a powerful wave of new investment -- is appropriate.

 Beyond the bold themes, what else do we like about Governor Raimondo’s budget package?

 -Investing in our school buildings. Deferred maintenance has rendered many schools dreary and dangerous. Creating a new revolving capital fund and seeding it with $20 million and committing to put at least $80 million a year into circulation would mean much needed construction activity for our tradesmen and women as well as brighter learning spaces for our kids.

 -Fixing our infrastructure. After “talent,” the quality and necessity of a modern infrastructure is of critical importance to industry. Fully funding municipal road and bridge programs will give cities and towns a way to readily finance new projects. Furthermore, an Infrastructure Bank, developed with General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, will push along energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

 -Making “real” workplace skills faster to achieve. Motivated public high school students will have a path to a degree or industry certification making it easier to achieve and make use of what’s known as dual enrollment --- taking college courses in high school at no additional cost to the parent.

 -Seeding a bunch of new ideas. Starting a state-backed small business lending pool to support advanced manufacturing and technology will help produce the high-wage innovation jobs we desire.

 -Beefing up the resources available to drive commerce by creating tax incentives to induce development. Right now, the tool box is virtually empty. How can Rhode Island realistically compete for new projects on a global scale when it has been “unilaterally disarmed?”

 Readers of these pages are acutely aware that Rhode Island’s economy is still flailing. Here’s one indicator that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention: Rhode Island ranks 50th in the nation in the value of construction activity in warehouse development -- despite our premier geographic location along the heavily trafficked Northeast Corridor. Key segments of our workforce sit idle and feel demoralized when they see investors like Amazon building a sizable warehouse in neighboring Fall River and creating 500 permanent jobs in the process. The pace of the recovery on this side of the state line simply hasn’t happened fast enough.

There is a sense of urgency and optimism in the air. We applaud the leadership of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed and hope the General Assembly will work with Governor Raimondo to enact what we believe to be a winning plan. The governor’s budget proposal isn’t perfect; however, core elements will provide the energy and dynamism to unleash a wave. It’s a great starting point and one that can be perfected -- and made bolder -- by lawmakers. The business community and building trades are committed to rallying around and supporting those public officials who agree with this message.

 As coastal New Englanders, we know that the very best waves can be forces of nature. A quiet rush won’t get us where we need to go. From trough to crest, we can only hope.

 Michael F. Sabitoni is president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council. Laurie White is president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

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