This is what's next
Executive Director, Grow Smart RI
What I hope is next for Rhode Island is that we stop reflexively beating ourselves up, continue discovering our many assets, invest prudently in them, celebrate our growing diversity rather than panic about it, and generally begin a period of steady, sustainable and equitable economic growth.
To achieve this vision we'll need to take a number of positive steps, all within our grasp:
- Embrace newcomers and their positive energy, whether they are from New York or Nigeria, Baltimore or Bogota.
- Ramp up business community outreach to our tens of thousands of college students;
- Insist on high standards of ethical conduct in all walks of life but not assume that our state is corrupt to the core when, inevitably, someone doesn't live up to these standards.
- Help our communities rediscover, reimagine, and rebuild their downtowns and village centers, where so much of Rhode Island’s achievement and character were forged.
- Develop the first class transportation system (including for commercial shipping) for which we already have the right "bones”, and which we must achieve to ensure a first class economy.
- Reduce the barriers to maintaining and expanding farming activity, a critical but fragile asset in such a heavily urbanized state.
- We also will need to confront aggressively the purveyors of knee jerk negativity, confuse them with facts and counter their Chicken Little cries with realistic hope for our future. Let's make fact based optimism fashionable once again in RI!
For a fundamental and long term upgrading of our economy we will need more cooperation among our municipalities and between our state and its neighbors, especially Massachusetts. We need to find a good working model for complementing and becoming more closely linked with Greater Boston (while preserving our distinctive character) rather than pursuing the fool’s errand of trying to overtake it.
Being pragmatic rather than ideological about the role of government in sustaining and improving daily life in RI is another key to a brighter economic future for our state. Government is neither our panacea nor our arch enemy, but rather a useful vehicle, when used prudently and in partnership with the private and nonprofit sectors, for:
- Catalyzing challenging redevelopment opportunities in economically distressed but strategic locations,
- Expanding economic opportunity,
- Improving our infrastructure and,
- Protecting our outstanding natural and physical resources.
Fundamentally our government reflects our own values and our own commitment to constructive civic engagement. If we decide that government is too messy and too corrupt to serve as a vehicle for economic, social and environmental advancement, it will live down to our low expectations and a vicious cycle of negative self-fulfilling prophecy will be the result.
On the other hand, with a more realistic and less jaded appraisal of our strengths and weaknesses, and committed leadership at the state, municipal and neighborhood levels, Rhode Island's rise can and should be unstoppable, and our long era of underachievement can become a distant memory.