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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Learning from 38 Studios mistakes

Committee hears a different proposal for handling economic development

STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Economic Development heard yesterday from a group of business and development leaders in the state pushing for more interaction between the state and its universities and the private sector.

Presenting a report developed earlier this year, “Rebooting the Economic Development System in Rhode Island,” to the joint committee were its three authors: Scott A. Gibbs and Marcel A. Valois, president and vice president, respectively, of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island, and Gary S. Sasse, director of the Bryant (University) Institute for Public Leadership and former director of both the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council and Department of Administration.

Led by co-chairpersons Sen. James C. Sheehan and Rep. Donna M. Walsh, the joint committee is exploring proposals to strengthen Rhode Island’s economy in the midst of both a slow recovery from recession and the failure of a state-backed investment in Curt Shilling’s now-bankrupt video game development company, 38 Studios.

“We are very much interested in hearing from anyone who has looked at the issues and has some suggestions to make. Economic development is no simple formula, and we need to hear everyone’s ideas in order to make informed decisions about what our state government should be doing to rebuild our economy and encourage prosperity,” said Representative Walsh (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly).

Said Senator Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown), “In reality, we can’t expect there to be a ‘silver bullet,’ one idea that’s going to be the answer to all our prayers. We need collaboration between our state’s brightest thinkers, people who have experienced the hurdles facing small and large businesses, and people who’ve worked in economic development efforts who know what helps and what doesn’t. We’re looking forward to considering all the plans that come forward.”

The independent plan by Gibbs, Valois and Sasse would eliminate the Economic Development Corporation – the quasi-public agency charged with the leading the state’s economic development efforts – and instead vest those responsibilities in three new bodies: 

a strategic office that answers to the governor, a research body based in the state’s universities and a new board of directors that would collaborate with the private sector and administer programs.

Last week the joint committee received a presentation from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council on a plan it proposed at Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s request recommending systematic changes in the way Rhode Island pursues economic growth. 

That report recommends the appointment of a state commerce secretary who would help shape the state’s business policies and oversee a new Executive Office of Commerce that would encompass the Departments of Business Regulation, Environmental Management and Labor and Training.