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Our economy needs quality jobs and prosperous businesses
By Jessica David / March 26, 2018 /   Loading Disqus...

There has been a lot of chatter lately pitting supporters for business against advocates for workers. The Providence Journal, in its February 13 editorial, said, “Rhode Island has not done nearly enough to improve the business climate and reinvigorate its economy. Many activists and lobbyists are working tirelessly at the State House, every day, to make it harder for the state’s businesses to succeed.” While it was not said there, it has been implied in other settings that these activists and lobbyists are those pushing for social service programs, minimum wage increases, healthcare, and paid leave. 

This dialogue pitting workers against businesses is frankly a distraction. It’s a false choice. Economic prosperity – and isn’t that what we’re all aiming for? – requires both/and approaches, not either/or. The fact is that, for our economy to truly thrive, we need both prosperous businesses and people in quality jobs, making wages that can sustain their families. 

Let’s set aside that false choice. Instead, let’s first agree that Rhode Island’s economy does indeed need reinvigorating. Let’s also agree that each of us who is earning a living – no matter the industry we work in – deserves to be treated fairly and to have equal opportunity for success. 

In Rhode Island today, we see a dramatically constricting middle class, gross inequality, stale population trends, and a shrinking tax base. After industrialization, we never really figured out – or invested in – what’s next as a state. That has started to change, but it will require persistence and patience to see meaningful results. 

It will require resources that help businesses start and grow, reliable transportation infrastructure, sufficient local access to the different types of capital that businesses need, an exceptional K-12 public education system, tight partnership between our state and local governments, quality, affordable, early childhood education, a fair and transparent regulatory environment that is easy for businesses to understand and protects our environment, safe, affordable housing options, adequate production facilities, investments in research and development, fair wages for workers, and treatment and leave options for when things go wrong (as they often do, for all of us) and for when families grow. 

Ticking off any one item from this list does not preclude the others from being completed too. In fact, they complement each other.  Working toward all of them concurrently is the only way we will see inclusive economic growth and progress that everyone shares in. 

Either/or rhetoric impedes progress. We believe middle ground exists, we believe Rhode Island is the perfect place to find and test that middle ground, too.  

We’re attempting to do our part by investing in effective workforce development and small business development. We’re aiming for increases in the median household income, postsecondary attainment, and net new jobs. And that won’t be enough, if it’s not also accompanied by significant reductions in income inequality and educational and income gaps. 
We know we have a long way to go but if we’re going to get there it’s only by reaching out of our comfort zones and reaching toward each other.

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