Comments on State of Rhode Island Economic Development Plan DRAFT for Public Review September 2014
Submitted to the RI Division of Planning by Greg Gerritt October 2014
My favorite author Ursula K. Leguin points out that if you are to have any success in struggles with Dragons, you must call them by their real names. Forgive the directness, but the real names need to be spoken if we are to solve our problems in Rhode Island.
The State of Rhode Island Economic Development plan is a plan for an economy that does not exist and will never exist. It is a plan for a high growth economy when in the old industrialized world growth is mostly dead. What passes for growth mostly ends up in the pockets of the 1% as the rest of us get poorer and the planetary systems become overloaded, stressed, and less productive. If the underlying growth assumptions were true, it would not be a bad report though a little heavy on buzz words, circular definitions, and the fads of the week. But to prepare Rhode Island and create the maximum prosperity in our communities we need a report much more anchored in reality, one that acknowledges that low growth and a slowly shrinking economy are much more likely, and has plans for creating widespread prosperity in a low growth community.
Yes I understand that agencies working for politicians can not speak such truth. But the Emperor has no clothes.
Recent reports peg the global growth rate at about 3.4% per year, with nearly all of the countries with growth rates above that being countries that are low income. These countries need more economic activity to meet basic needs like food , clean water, sewers, and health care. In the old industrial west overall growth is below 2%. The US has one of the stronger economies, with a growth rate of 2.2%. I have also spent the last couple of years watching the PR campaign on why different states have different growth rates. Rhode Island is beaten about the head with the idea that we have a bad business climate and a bad business climate translates into a laggard economy. The issue of the bad business climate holding us back permeates the entire Development Plan. But reality is that the effect of a good or bad business climate on a state economy is miniscule. I highly recommend the Kansas Inc. report http://www.kansasinc.org/pubs/working/Business%20Climate%20Indexes.pdf on business climates for a pretty thorough debunking of the business climate myth. Other factors are much more important, and almost every state that has rapid growth, lead by North Dakota at 15% per year, is growing via the exploitation of natural resources not due to industrialization and manufacturing. Rhode Island, with its post industrial landscape, and few natural resources (we no longer mine coal in Garden City) is going to lag the national average. No matter what our business climate. But maybe facts do not matter. The rich have decided to undo justice and build in flood prone areas and we are supposed to rubber stamp the economic plan that facilitates that.
Rhode Island is going to have a growth rate closer to 1% than 3% over the next few years, and down the road the growth rate will continue to decline. Maybe we need all the boosterism and thrashing about to stay where we are, but I doubt it. The thrashing around, the jumping through hoops to prostrate ourselves before the altar of the business climate, the give aways and tax payer subsidies to the rich, will have only a tiny effect on economic growth rates, and just might move us in the wrong direction. So we need a plan for a low growth environment. And we did not get one.
I participated in the RhodeMap RI process from start to finish, attending hearings, open houses, and work sessions, commenting on the blog, sending in questions, so I know what happened there, and I hoped some of what was developed by the community outside of the corporate mainstream would be reflected in the new State of RI Economic Development Plan now under review. My friends tell me on cursory reading that it captured some of what was said, but I have read the report as well as sat through many work-sessions and was sorely disappointed by what it left out. The best thing that can be said about the plan is that it appropriately updates the boiler plate on education, smart regulations, climate change, and the like, but that unfortunately tells me that it will have just as much usefulness as all the other reports sitting on the shelf because it still buys into the corporate lie on the business climate and its written for a world that does not exist. I have been reading reports like this for 25 years. They always update the boiler plate with the new buzz words, and many of those things are things we need to do. No one wants intentionally dense regulations that are unworkable, or rivers that are sewers, or bad schools. We all want a strong school to work pathway and good health care. But in no case does this new report go far enough in discussing the underlying power dynamics that drives the anti science, anti regulatory, and tax cutting fervors that are part and parcel of denying that the government has a role in developing the economy, even as the most anti regulatory capitalists operate on subsidies from the taxpayers.
Example of the week: I attended the opening of the new DEM Permitting Application Center, with an unfortunate acronym reminding us of pay to play. It is the new one stop shopping. Everyone loves one stop shopping, even me. The process for getting permits should be straightforward, transparent, and move expeditiously. It is the right thing to do. But listening to some of the speakers you could tell they still had not gotten how much damage they do by building buildings in inappropriate places with no thoughts to cumulative impacts including climate change and flooding, nor do they consider the global limits to growth or the damage sprawl does to communities. It is build as much as we can as fast as we can despite the evidence of how dangerous it is and how likely it is to lead to another crash. They leave it to people like me to save them from their excesses. Clearly we need stronger environmental protections if we are going to speed up the permitting process, and we need the counterbalancing process by which it is easier for communities to stop inappropriate projects in the neighborhood. If we are going to make it easier for business, we also need to make it easier for communities. Or is that forbidden? A better process in which the community was well represented would give swifter clarity to everyone and save lots of money on lawyers that could be much better spent.
Once we eliminate the homage to the business climate gurus and the Chamber of Commerce PR we still need a much more thorough analysis of the economy. Much of what we call growth is actually harmful to our communities, our society, and our planet, and if we deducted the damage we are doing from the economy, instead of adding it to the economy, growth rates in most of the US would be negative. No, lets not talk about it that way, lets talk straight. Economies do shrink and the economy of old industrial places in New England is going to continue to shrink. And most of the folks in the US are getting poorer now even with the phony measures of growth. For the 99% the economy is shrinking and the tactics being offered to grow the economy will make workers even more expendable. Today if you looked at the states where “growth” is fastest you are seeing massive damage to ecosystems and the planet that can only be called growth when the cost of water pollution, the building of jails, and climate change are added to the growth measures rather than deducted. A recent report on Williston North Dakota, a place with a growth rate and and destructive boom as rip roaring as any place on the planet, reminds us that the price of growth at all costs is hell on earth. The short hand name for doing the subtraction as well as the addition is Full Cost Accounting. Not once did the report call for full cost accounting when examining the RI economy. Adding without subtracting is funny math, which may be why our schools can not teach math any better than Texas can teach evolution and the science of climate change
It is not as if all of what I say above is new to the authors of the report. It was said publicly at many meetings. It was also discussed in one on one conversations with many of the Division of Planning employees and their consultants at the workshops and in writing. Often in conversation the authors acknowledged that I was on to things that needed to be accounted for, but they could not figure out how to within the constraints of the current power structure. And that is what we have, a report to appease the powerful rather than a report that will be of much use to Rhode Islanders.
RI needs many things, but more than anything it needs a new way to think about prosperity in a low growth environment. Under the current system good times sort of trickle down (some of us remember trickle down economics, which is when they pee on your leg it runs into your boot) to the working class only when economic growth rates are between 3 and 4% per year. Above 4% the Fed moves in and shuts down the money machine. Until after the Civil War such growth rates had never occurred in a sustained way anywhere in the world. Post Civil War the fossil fuel boom, along with the rise of democracy and workers movements created in the west a situation in which 3% growth was possible instead of the 1% that had prevailed since the Neolithic. The boom lasted until 1973 when the Chamber of Commerce decided that protecting the environment and furthering justice and democracy were bad ideas and began a serious campaign to overturn regulations that protected clean air, clean water, consumers, and civil rights. Stagnant wages, bad diets, expensive health care and real estate and a bubble prone economy is the legacy. It no coincidence that the same law firms and pr firms that worked to tell us that smoking tobacco does not cause cancer now tell us there is no such thing as global warming. Someone forgot to give the Chamber the message that strong communities, strong democracy, and healthy ecosystems are critical components of prosperity in the 21st Century.
With an ideology of low wages all the time offshoring became the default option, followed by changes in the tax code that made it easier for the rich to hide the money, and for the last 40 years the boom has been in places other than the west. Another thing happened shortly after 1973. People began using more than 100% of the global biological productivity each year, (we now use 140% of the productivity each year) leading to an inexorable trend in deforestation, loss of wildlife (down 52% since 1970), soil erosion and depletion, and the emptying of the oceans. We work hard here in Rhode Island to protect the integrity of Narragansett Bay, we shine a spotlight on it, but even in such a great place the depletion, invasive species, and warming waters are wreaking havoc.
Rhode Island needs to pay attention to the Middle Income Trap. In normal usage this refers to countries late to industrialization, like Thailand, China, Brazil that jump in at the low tech end of industrialization, textiles, and try to climb the ladder to high tech. The first counties to do this England, France, Germany, the US, have been involved have been climbing for 200 years. 1759 is a good year to use as a base line for fossil fuel pollution due to the invention of the steam engine to pump water out of the coal mines that year, but the take off took a while, with incomes rising for 200 years. Rhode Island started to have textile mills in 1793. Industrial facilities began leaving old cities in the north after World War I, and the migration to the Global South continues. But whereas the rich countries were able to translate their economic growth into ever higher incomes for 180 years, now countries go through the entire technology ladder in 10 years and their per capita incomes can not rise beyond the $10,000 to $12000 range before the next low cost producer starts the climb up the ladder putting downward pressure on wages even as the real estate speculators try to build housing for the global traders, mostly creating bubbles that wreak havoc. China might be the current example.
One trend the economists have not yet pondered is that the Middle Income Trap may also work from above. Deindustrialization provides downward pressure on wages, usually exacerbated by policy choices to suit the oligarchy and each new wave of technology. Work gets done with relatively fewer and fewer people at each step up the technology ladder. Software will never employ as many people as making clothing. Places like Rhode Island will slowly drift down to the global mean per capita income as very poor countries rise up. Some would view this as a disaster, but given that life satisfaction does not really rise much in countries once Middle Income Status is achieved, there is no reason to think that RI could not be a healthier and more joyful place as a part of the global middle income world, and we would almost certainly being doing a much better job of shouldering our responsibility for a healthy planet.
The Chamber of Commerce would tell you I am crazy, after all they have many professional liars on staff, but it is NOT a coincidence that wages have stagnated since their campaign against justice, democracy, and the environment so as to fill the pockets of the oligarchy began in some of the poshest offices in Washington DC. All of the growth in income is going to a very small percentage of the population while most of us have gotten poorer. The perfect conditions for repeated bubbles. Real estate, high tech, banking. It is sort of like they have no real plan except to create bubble after bubble ( and they never acknowledge part of why they are stuck is resource depletion). The report sort of acknowledges that growing inequality is a problem, but undercuts itself with recommendation after recommendation that we do one thing after another to give the rich what they want, paying only lip service to the things we need to do to decrease inequality and protect ecosystems. Reducing inequality is not rocket science, it is policy. Tools include raising taxes on the rich, ending all subsidies for real estate speculation, and instituting carbon taxes as well as the more standard methods such as improved childcare, access to healthcare, good schools, apprentice programs, strong unions, and life long learning opportunities. Another tool is making sure the poorest in a community benefit the most from economic development. The current model assumes economic development is a top down process rather than a bottom up process. But there is plenty of evidence showing that to improve economic performance in low income neighborhoods the poorest in the community must have a real seat at the table, a strong voice on investment decisions, AND nearly all of the benefits economically. Even the World Bank has figured that out. http://ieg.worldbankgroup.org/Data/reports/chapters/forest_eval.pdf
In rain forest communities, the way to guarantee benefits to the community is to guarantee ownership of the forest by local community. Ownership that is meaningful enough that they get to decide forest management and not lose the forest to a concession sold in the capital city to some buddy of the environment minister. In our communities it is control of brownfields and abandoned places and who gets to decide what happens and who benefits that matters. The current model of gentrification for private profit mostly just exiles the poor to another neighborhood, being pushed out repeatedly as the gentrifiers search for the next new thing. Kind of what we did to the native people of Turtle Island (look at a map of North America and you will get it) and what is going on right now in Indonesia. The only poverty reduction plan (and for good measure climate protection plan) that works in the forest is keep the forest in the hands of the local community. Given that Brownfields are the capturable resource in Environmental Justice Communities, it is just as likely that turning urban Brownfields into community assets rather than a gentrifiers dream is what will work. We sort of do this with organizations like the Olneyville Housing Corporation, but only sort of. And yes we need housing, but we also need food, a lot more food when California’s drought continues next year and for a decade, so maybe we ought to think of Brownfields as future vertical farm locations. We also could use more forest and floodplain water storage to reduce the impact of future flooding from ever larger storms in more paved over watersheds.
The game of development as currently practiced in Rhode Island is primarily a real estate game. We are constantly searching for the subsidy formula that will enable rich folks to build things for rich folks that can be sold for ever more money each time it sells. I suppose that in a high growth economy one might imagine this working, but right now this need to upcycle every site works for the 10% of the workforce that swims in the stratosphere. We have made parks, gardens and affordable housing out of some sites, but on nothing like the scale needed, nor with any effort to keep all of the newly generated economic activity in the community.
The report hints at, but only hints at, the basic contradictions and hypocrisy in how we think about prosperity. For context I offer some comments from long time RI analyst Gary Sasse currently at Bryant University. He was in the paper this month (October 2014) discussing the ever growing structural deficit in the RI state budget. It is big, it is growing, what are we going to do about it was the gist of his interview. Considering that we have cut budgets for the last 10 years, to the point where state workers find it nearly impossible to cover the workload, including the issuing of the permits and smartening the regulations we hear. A group working the with RI Food Policy Council submitted an upgrade to the Compost regulations for neighborhood composting nearly 2 years ago. We know that the entire proposal is welcome in DEM and they agreed with 99% of it on day one. But they have not had the people power to finish the damn thing despite a small scale community industry waiting to go when it gets the green light. Budget cuts will not move us forward. An understanding of the role of the ecology in the economy will.
To its credit, the report pays more attention to ecology, climate change, and agriculture than previous plans, but it still mostly paying lip service and not rocking the boat. An acknowledgment that the people of the Earth are using 140% of the biologically renewable resources each year, with the resulting deforestation, soil depletion, climate change, and disappearing fisheries and biodiversity would provide a much better context for an honest discussion and the need for Rhode Island to be a responsible partner on the planet, allowing those with little to catch up while simultaneously healing more of the planet so it can feed us. The discussion of climate change is weak. Maybe not weak in the political context of the United States and its well funded climate denial lobby (and we want to be a world leader in science?). But nevertheless, weak. Its biggest weakness is on the role climate change is going to play in the food supply over the next few years. If the drought in California persists another two years, places that do not grow their own vegetables are going to be hurting. http://ecowatch.com/2014/10/16/noaa-winter-outlook/?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=5ba143a888-Top_News_10_17_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-5ba143a888-85890577 You think we have nutrition issues now?
The flip side is the opportunity in agriculture is one of the few that we have to create jobs in large quantities in ways that add to the economy, provide employment for marginalized communities and youth, and heal ecosystems simultaneously. The report does not look into this deeply enough.. If Rhode Island created a crash program to both reduce our carbon footprint (as we are obligated to do) and to grow food to compensate for the loss of CA foods (and reduce our carbon footprint) it would be much more useful than any of the suggestions in the report. A missed opportunity due to an unwillingness to actually examine the situation.
One last topic before I go through the report making flippant comments about particular sections. Rhode island seems fated to try to rely on the medical industrial complex and higher education to create jobs and fuel the economy. Be careful what you wish for. The Medical Industrial Complex already is over 17% of the economy, and its rate of growth is faster than the rest of the economy. We know that the high cost of healthcare is one of the things really gumming up the works of our communities and our economy. But relying on the medical industrial complex to create jobs means that healthcare will be an ever bigger part of the economy and therefore an even bigger strain on our communities and economy as well as being the biggest stressor in personal bankruptcies. We can not increase the size and financial flows of the medical industrial complex without large negative impacts on the rest of us. Should we be looking out for the few or the many? There are also many policy questions about healthy communities that a reliance on the medical industrial complex make much more difficult to solve.
Higher education suffers from many of the same conundrums as the medical industrial complex. The weight of debt on people coming out of school stifles creativity, reduces business creation, and reduces homeownership. The cost of healthcare and college have grown many times faster than the cost of the rest of what we use in our society. A few have gotten very wealthy on this system, but most of us have fallen further behind. If we want these to cost less we need a reallocation of resources away from these areas, especially the high priced parts of the work.
The rest of my comments will be interspersed with quotes from the report:
I did not record page numbers when I started this research, but essentially my comments go in the order of the report. I begin with the executive summary. Transition to comments on the main report is noted. Some of the comments are just quick reactions, others more fully fleshed out. RM is RhodeMap GG is Greg Gerritt
RM “The need for clear and open standards in economic decision making, and accountability in
GG Until this includes Full Cost Accounting so that we see the costs of our follies, we do not have open and transparent economic policy planning. In addition the report makes no mention of economic democracy and the right of the people to decide what is appropriate development in their community. It must be MUCH easier for communities to say NO to being poisoned, displaced, or flooded as well as for state agencies to say yes to well designed projects.
RM “Streamlined, coordinated, and consistently enforced regulations that continue to protect public
health, safety, and wellbeing.”
GG I think in this case we would be well served to have a thorough discussion of how the regulatory environment got so convoluted. The deliberate Chamber of Commerce attack on regulations and economic justice that began in 1973 continues to this day. Much of the language we all find maddening is a result of the C of C attempt to be the low cost producer, the public be damned. What we really need to do is practice precaution. It is really simple. Prove it is safe before you can take it out of the lab. The standard for pollution and erosion and runoff can simply be set at zero. What leaves your facility must be cleaner than what went in and there shall be zero waste. With firecodes and safety codes where it is not a yes no situation but a degree of safety, if the industries made a commitment to stop cutting corners, and then followed through, regulation would be easy. The convolution of the regulations is a direct result of the attacks on them and the tendency of industries to cut corners. Unless that is part of the discussion openly, it is hard to have a fair negotiation as to what is the best and most transparent way to protect the public and the ecosystem while providing clear guidelines on acceptable behavior that is easy to enforce for business. It is occasionally very difficult to listen to those who use attacks on the process of permitting to cover attacks on environmental integrity. And painful to listen to those who let them get away with it.
RM “Where a sustainable economy preserves, sustains, and restores the natural environment,
protects and nurtures public health, improves the resiliency of our built environment, and
creates green collar jobs.”
GG I am glad it says restores the natural environment. Ecological healing is one of the pillars of our future prosperity. But the report gives no context for how much healing is necessary to feed our communities down the road even though reports have been circulated on this recently and were available to the Division of Planning in time to be included in this. Rhode Island has far to go but if we start to use ecological healing as part of our food resilience program it would be a big boost to the RI’s state of well being. I also do not think I approve of the reports implied definition of sustainable, which seems to be slow down the rate of damage bit, while business goes on as usual. Maybe we need a ecosystem healing index by which to judge every project, one that goes beyond LEED.
RM “An essential goal of the RhodeMap RI process was to address social equity, particularly looking
at systems, programs and ideas that have the effect of marginalizing certain groups of people. As
ideas about job growth, investment, training and others were explored, discussions about social
equity were a constant reminder to measure potential economic strategies with the question
“Who benefits?” Such questioning quickly reveals that without strategies specifically targeted at
populations with greater barriers to opportunity, those barriers may never be overcome.
GG then why the refusal to directly address inequality in the report? More unequal places have economies that grind to a halt earlier. Strategies offered tinker at the margins rather than get to the heart of economic inequality and what to do about it. How the State of RI deals with Brownfields and Environmental Justice Communities will tell us whether they are serious or not. The refusal to finish up rules that protect EJ communities after many people worked hard to get them done shows a lack of will to do the right thing for EJ communities.
A. Develop an urban core strategy to encourage job creation and other opportunities in areas of
higher concentration of unemployment and to benefit those who live there.
B. Promote opportunities for workforce training that leads to upward mobility, particularly for
disadvantaged populations that have faced barriers to employment.
C. Increase diversity in the state workforce and state contracting.”
GG I agree with much of what is in this section, but this is essentially the updated boilerplate I referred to. No mention of the food supply here. We should be implementing plans for growing food on every lawn with sun in Rhode Island, training neighborhood farmers to manage the activity, support all home growing, and farm the plots that are not being farmed by anyone else. That will create jobs, improve nutrition, create community, reduce waste (compost) , build resilience and help us transition to a less consumerist society that can live on the one planet we have. The Draft Plan also does not point out the need to transfer tangible assets to low income communities, or at least guarantee their rights to them, if poverty is to be eliminated. The other part of these strategies is that they make no mention of trying to figure out what the people can do well and tailoring the economy in a community to its strengths. It is as if we shall magically give people new skills for the new economy, or more likely try to replace them with the “right “ kind of people, It would be very interesting to see what Rhode Island would look like if it attempted to create an economy that matched the skills of recent immigrants and the unemployed rather than just RISD graduates.
RM A. Develop and enhance Rhode Island’s sustainable and innovative maritime and defense
GG Killing people is not the road to prosperity. Support of the war machine is actually, a massive drain on the pockets of Rhode Islanders, and the policies that require these types of expenditures make us less safe rather than safer. Plus war is exceedingly bad for all living things. Asked the communities that have had napalm dropped on them. All we seem to be able to do is arm the very folks we are trying to kill off. Country Joe got it right at Woodstock. This would be a great place to apply Full Cost Accounting. It hemorrhages money and makes our lives worse destroying democracy and civil liberties at home as well as around the world. Spend all of the money now used for killing on alternative energy. OOPS, I forgot we have to control the oil fields of the Middle East. So we can make climate change worse faster and keep Dick Cheney and the Koch brothers happy so they will fund our elections and fight against renewable energy. As long as Rhode Island relies on the defense industry we shall be in trouble. It is time for the state to adopt the role of conscientious objector and demand a full cost accounting of the war machine and the empire. Federal policy, not our problem,? Nope, the sucking up of elected officials to the killers and war profiteers needs to stop, and the damage to our economy from the war on everyone except rich capitalists must end if prosperity is to come to Olneyville. War is the ultimate ecosystem and community destroyer and it is bad karma for Rhode Islanders to build and research new and better ways to kill.
RM B. Strengthen and support Rhode Island’s burgeoning food system businesses, which span
agriculture, aquaculture and fishing, food processing/manufacturing, and sales.
GG Recently a report came out that said RI needs to figure on growing at least 20% of our own food in the not too distant future if we are to maintain food security. There is nothing in the Economic Development plan that even begins to ponder that number. Why?
RM C. Invest in arts and culture to build on Rhode Island’s identity as a cultural destination.
D. Fuel the manufacturing renaissance and reinvest in Rhode Island’s unique built
GG I think this means encourage RISD grads to design cool stuff and market it. It would be great for RI to make a lot of stuff again. Right now in Providence our biggest export is scrap metal, mostly to China. But what we are not thinking about is that we need to make the stuff of every day life in RI in RI, not stuff that the lowest cost producer will make and ship to us or some product to designed here and produced in sweat shops for the global market
Trade deals are becoming more and more difficult to complete as the resistance to globalization grows. A clear example of how limited the view of the authors is that there is no mention of the slow down of global trade deals and the growth of fair trade as part of the effect of global resistance. How will this effect the RI economy? Maybe by encouraging more local self reliance. But a report that completely ignores the resistance to globalization is a report written with blinders placed on the eyes of the writers by politicians and corporate money.
RM E. Transition to a knowledge, innovation, and technology driven economy geared to
greener, more sustainable outcomes.
GG I would like to ask what they mean by sustainable. Does it mean actually reversing the ecosystem damage or just slowing down the damage a bit? None of what is proposed in the state plan is actually sustainable if we define sustainable as the ability of harvested organism to maintain their population in the face of harvest or taking the money derived from fossil fuel extraction and mining and investing it in a way that provides jobs in the community forever. While healing the damage created in the extraction to make the money. In the US we have expanded the definition of sustainability to the triple bottom line in theory, but we are still not taking ecosystem health into account. Truth in advertising should be a hallmark of state reports. Please state if sustainable means just slowing down the rate of destruction or if you are ready to define it as restoring ecosystem health in an already degraded place?
RM Goal Five: Create a stronger and more resilient Rhode Island.
Addressing critical infrastructure needs will be essential to the economic prosperity of Rhode
Island, including transportation, transit, water, stormwater and wastewater, and energy, as well as
digital infrastructure such as broadband. Further, we need to ensure that this infrastructure is
stable and sustainable into the future. Climate change and sea-level rise will directly impact
some of Rhode Island’s most important assets and infrastructure, and we need to plan
accordingly. However, there are also potential economic opportunities resulting from climate
change research and innovation that we should assess and pursue.
GG grow more trees. Solves nearly all of those problems.
RM As the national economy has
continued to recover it has become even clearer how important entrepreneurship and small
businesses are for economic growth.
GG Define recovery. You mean the growth of fracking has put more money in the hands of the climate denier cadre and Wall St has pocketed the money from the bank bailout? The growth of the medical industrial complex has bankrupted more sick people? Climate change is worsening, the drought is worsening, the stockmarket dropped 461 points yesterday, Growth rates around the world are expected to be lower. This is a recovery??
RM Small business success is never easy, but the state can help
by establishing clearer, more consistent regulations and regulatory processes, setting fair tax
policies consistent with those of neighboring states, providing easier access to information about
funding for small businesses, increasing access to and decreasing the costs of health care, and
marketing Rhode Island businesses throughout the country and around the world.
GG Some useful ideas, most useless. Decreasing the cost of heath care will take reducing the size of the health care sector of the economy but that is the opposite of the policies in the report intended to foster the medical industrial complex.
Show me the data that says lower taxes improve outcomes, not just put money in the hands of the rich. Show me how much impact local tax rates have on profits. It is very little. The lower taxes policy push is just a shell game by the rich to pocket more money.
If we want to help small business, help small business. But the report says nearly all of the subsidy goes to larger businesses. RI needs a law that states no subsidy or assistance will go from the state or municipalities to any business that generates more than $500,000 of business a year or has any employees making more than $100,000 a year. Then we would help small business.
RM In this ever-changing economy, strategies that make sense today may be irrelevant two years
from now. The most important thing is that we stick to a common vision and strive for
everything we do to be consistent with that vision. In some ways, what we do is less important
than how we do it, how we keep track of our successes and failures, and how we hold ourselves
accountable for staying the course
GG The vision has to match reality, and the vision in this report does not. Following it is a road to nowhere.
RM State as Convener: From businesses, to arts organizations, to housing advocates – we
have heard that the State and its partners can play the role of convener
GG Clearly the state is needed, and therefore needs resources. We have some fundamental contradictions that need more discussion. Until we openly embrace the role of the state in the economy we shall never have the honest discussion that is needed to sort this out and benefits will flow from the many to the few instead of the other way around.
RM Our ideas of how we approach economic development need to change. If we have learned
anything in the past decade, it is that we can’t depend on short term fixes or our ability to predict
economic winners and losers. Instead, we need to think longer term, about systems that can
respond to changes we can’t predict, and focus on education and training that can meet the
demands of a changing economy, and provide the skills people need to thrive. Certainly we need
to learn from the past…but not be so beaten down by past mistakes that we are unwilling to invest
in our own future.
GG We do need to go beyond short term fixes and the fad of the week. Except the wealthy are not learning or paying attention to what is really going on globally, and they are completely ignoring the ecology. The resistance is global and it is time to embrace the resistance not kowtow to the rich.
RM Align aspects of education with workforce training and the needs of tomorrow’s businesses,
harnessing the tremendous intellectual capital in the state with our tradition of business know
GG Align business with the people in RI rather than attempting to displace them.
RM Focus our efforts on the state’s most disadvantaged populations, and the places where they live all
over Rhode Island, but particularly in our more urban communities,
GG Yes. Make sure the assets of our most distressed urban communities are used to directly benefit the urban communities and do not let the economic benefits leak to the already wealthy and powerful.
Celebrate our strengths based on our locational advantages, natural environment, and
Foster economic growth in all its varied forms and varied locations, recognizing that strategies for
doing so must be tailored to place,
GG How about we tailor prosperity to communities and understand growth will be very limited as the rest of the world catches up without wiping out ecosystems.
RM Invest in infrastructure, and address vulnerabilities that we can predict,
GG Like the food supply diminishing in the face of drought and floods in key agricultural regions? Like moving people away from the coast so we can strengthen the resilience of the coastlines and give coastlines the opportunity to move as sea level rises? Like moving the vulnerable and their buildings out of floodplains that are more vulnerable in paved over watersheds in larger storms?
RM Create a business climate that is predictable, timely and competitive with our neighbors, while
remaining true to our values.
GG What values? Pay to play? Or transparency about how much subsidy goes to the rich?
RM Cumbersome Regulations: The cost and time burden of meeting regulatory requirements at the state and
local level, and a lack of consistency in enforcement is a common theme. From small business owners, to
housing advocates, to developers, to many average Rhode Islanders, there is a perception that regulations
are holding the economy back. The most common desire was to see regulations streamlined,
coordinated, and enforced consistently and in a timely fashion.
GG We all want an efficient system, which is why on some level the new DEM system for permits is cool. But this is not what is holding back the economy. And this still will not stop the attack on regulations. It is the desire to protect ecosystems and communities that is under attack. The hard to use regulations attack is a ruse. They are still trying to strangle the government so that protecting people goes out of fashion and communities can not protect themselves from their depredations.
I return to the fact that the convolutions of the regulatory system evolved under a systematic attack by corporate interests and the real estate industry. They have made their own bed through their unwillingness to admit that ecological protection is critical for communities and that democracy ought to prevail. If the builders showed more care about preventing flooding, erosion and pollution than I do, the regulations would be easy to administer. As long as businesses are trying to skirt the rules, and build closer to wetlands, the rules grow to keep them fenced in. How about they go first, a pledge to never create pollution or flooding with a proposal of enforceable language to back it up? A pledge to truly include cumulative impacts in siting decisions? A pledge to reduce the carbon footprint of location decisions? A commitment to stop using attacks on the regulatory apparatus to cover up disagreements with the rules? A commitment to not build projects the community finds to be dangerous? A commitment to be transparent about all chemicals and other dangerous substances found on their facilities?
GG Here are some thoughts based on the middle of the report. I did not copy everything I commented on.
GG Why the obsession with a growing population? In a world of 7 billion it is responsible to stop population growth. That would help us reduce our carbon footprint and allow the price of housing to come down.
Why does the price of housing have to go up??? People already can not afford housing, but it seems as if the entire economy is a house of cards that can not function if the price of housing comes down to what workers can afford. This is a fundamental flaw in our planning. House prices must come down if we want vibrancy.
RM While not a traditionally-defined industry sector, the 400 businesses conducting defense-related activities
employ more than 17,000 Rhode Islanders (3.8 percent of the total workforce) in military and civilian
positions and generated more than $4 billion in sales in 2010. 9 Many of these are high wage, high tech
jobs that help support our middle class and our manufacturing sector. An additional 6,500 people are
employed in positions indirectly related to defense activities. The Southeastern New England Defense
Industry Alliance (SENEDIA) reports that in 2012, 80 percent of federal contracts awarded to Rhode
Island were defense-related. Federal funding cuts have led these businesses to identify commercial
applications for defense technology. One such effort is the establishment of a Maritime Cybersecurity
Center of Excellence, which is being convened by SENEDIA.
GG How much damage to us does this do, and does this really benefit us when RI sends more to DC than it gets back? When do we see a true cost accounting for this industry? If the industry is already shrinking due to overspending on wars bankrupting the country, maybe our efforts to move out of the Defense industries needs to ramp up rather than focus on helping them hold on. Peace is the way.
RM In the ten focus communities, analyses identified nearly 3,500 acres (representing more than 2,300
distinct parcels) as having high redevelopment potential. This prioritization is not a “highest and best
use” study for each redevelopment parcel, but provides one perspective on how the state, and local
governments, might prioritize assistance and target economic development strategies. In general, this
planning effort identifies redevelopment as one of the state’s greatest economic opportunities and
demonstrates the need for additional housing and redevelopment of existing buildings within the state,
and particularly in urban areas.
The analysis identified 14 sites that have strong development potential in the next 2-5 years, and an
additional 28 with longer term potential over the next 6-10 years. East Providence had the most sites with
strong development potential, representing over 500 acres, including many properties along their
waterfront such as Kettle Point, Crook Point, Bold Point Harbor and the area along Veterans Memorial
Parkway. And indeed, East Providence is seeing a great deal of development interest and activity, even in
the midst of the State’s slow economic recovery from the Great Recession. Other sites of strong potential
include Central Falls Landing, the Ciba Geigy property in Cranston, the North End of Newport, Natick
Village in Warwick, and the Main Street area of downtown Woonsocket. Again, this is not to say there
aren’t many other opportunities throughout the state – the I-195 Corridor District in Providence and the
Conant Thread Factory complex in Pawtucket and Central Falls, for example, present very serious long
GG When do we stop thinking about real estate games as economic development, or do we have no other vocabulary?
And when do we realize that poverty reduction will obligate us to transfer the assets to the community.
RM While the growth of Rhode Island’s Gross Regional Product (GRP) (the value of all goods and services
produced within the State) has kept pace with the Nation, job growth has not. At 21 percent job growth
between 1979 and 2010, Rhode Island has less than half of the Nation’s cumulative job growth rate
(54 percent). Prior to the start of the Great Recession in December of 2007, Rhode Island had already
entered into an economic recession of its own– starting to lose jobs in December 2006, a full year before
the onset of the Great Recession, according to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training
(DLT). The recessionary effects have lingered longer as well, exhibited by continued high
GG Economic growth rates until 2010 were equal to the national average, while job growth lagged. Pretty weird. But normal if real estate speculation is all we do for growth. And in one of the densest places in the US, why is it a bad thing if population shrinks?
Another question. As of 2010 The regulatory climate was pretty similar to its current form. And we kept pace with national economic growth (without factoring in destruction) clearly it is not changes in the regulatory climate since 2010 that have reduced our growth below the national average. Otherwise the growth rate would have fallen behind years ago.
13 While some industries, such as health care, have
recovered in terms of job production, a DLT report states that recessionary effects continue to have an
impact on the state’s Government, Construction, Manufacturing and Information sectors.14
GG No wonder we are poorer, health care jobs are growing and eating the economy. And as much as we all want manufacturing to come back, in the modern world the manufacturing they will bring back ultimately costs jobs rather than creates them.
RM The cost of doing business is often credited as one of the most important indicators of a state’s
GG Of course it is a lie perpetrated by those who pocket more money, but facts seem not to matter when the rich want something.
RM Until recently, Rhode Island’s tax structure compared poorly, both to its peers and nationally.
GG Except there are plenty of high tax states with strong economies and plenty of low tax states with bad economies. The state tax structure makes almost no difference. Do facts matter or is the perpetration of this lie orders from above?
RM property taxes remain an issue.
GG Any community that funds its activities primarily with the property tax is going to be in a very bad situation unless it can constantly churn real estate and sell it for higher and higher prices. The result is an unaffordable community for more and more people. Raise income taxes lower property taxes, institute a Tobin tax, institute carbon taxes, and tax accumulated wealth beyond houses such as investment portfolios and stock ownership.
RM Healthcare spending in Rhode Island accounts for 17.6% of the State’s total gross domestic product, and
per capita healthcare costs in Rhode Island had reached $8,309 by 2009. Although the healthcare and
social service industries continue to thrive and support Rhode Island’s economy, these costs have a
profound impact on the ability of Rhode Island businesses to grow and prosper by decreasing the number
of employees businesses can hire and insure. Additionally, the high costs have not helped to create a
healthier population; 63% of the State’s population is either overweight or obese, which places them at an
elevated risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension, which make up 75% of
total healthcare costs per year. Many of these costs are preventable through increased investments in the
built environment; chronic disease prevention, maintenance, and control; and increased access to primary
care. A healthier State population will decrease healthcare costs, making Rhode Island companies more
competitive by reducing operating expenses while increasing the productivity of the workforce.
GG RI needs a serious discussion of the role of the medical industrial complex on its economy, another case of Full Cost Accounting being very useful.
What we shall see is that the more biotech (and related fields) we try to attract, the more unaffordable health care becomes. Every one of the high salaries that get paid in biotech comes out of someone’s health care dollars. So we want to lower the percentage of state income going into the healthcare field and need to stop subsidizing biotech. We also need to be very clear about what makes people healthier. Most of the gains in life span and state of health of the American people is due to improved sanitation and public health. Investment in the public sector with direct benefits to people. Most of the high tech medicine, while cool and lifesaving, is mostly going to preserve a few wealthy lives often for a very short time. High tech medicine is not going to stop heart attacks and diabetes, healthy local food will, but the state is looking for quick fixes rather than home grown solutions.
If you really want to remove healthcare costs as a burden on business, single payer is the most effective way to practice prevention and reduce costs. Where is the push for that solution in the report?
RM As discussed later in this plan, economic development hurdles include a lack of water and sewer
infrastructure outside of the urban core and the overall poor condition of the state’s infrastructure; limited
developable land and the development constraints that exist for remaining land (e.g. brownfields and
other environmental constraints); and an aging housing stock.
GG Maybe we need fewer people and a new understanding of development as something other than upscaling real estate. If there are no sewers and not enough water, rather than expand that infrastructure have people live where the infrastructure is and save the rural areas for food and fiber. The aging housing stock and brownfields will be revamped not by speculators, but by community programs targeted to increasing the equity of low income people. No building should be using any fossil fuel. No new construction should be done without recycled materials. Right now we knock down houses and throw them away. Why not have people dismantle them carefully so the materials can be reused. More labor intensive, but we need jobs. And we can have lower prices and less speculation in real estate.
RM Finally, another barrier to jobs for many people is access to safe, affordable childcare outside of
traditional working hours. Child care is often so expensive that, in an unfortunate twist, taking a job might
not make economic sense for a parent. Investments in child care can help unlock job opportunities for
many parents, and allow more people to fully participate in the economy.
GG While I absolutely support great child care for all who wish to avail themselves of it, with a world much less obsessed with consumption fewer people would need to work in the cash economy as much so fewer folks would need childcare.
GG TF Green is a boondoggle. Its use is SHRINKING. Airlines are stupid and unaffordable, only the wealthy and desperate fly, most can not afford it. Fewer are flying, but we keep spending more money on the airport. More are riding ripta and funding is scarce, though maybe a bit better right now.
RM Green Industry: So called “green collar” jobs represent a broad range of services and expertise related to
improving environmental conditions and increasing resiliency, ranging from jobs related to energy
efficiency and renewable energy to “Clean Tech” opportunities. For example, as Rhode Island continues
to be a partner in future offshore wind farm development, the logistics, construction, shipping, safety,
storage, engineering, and permitting jobs associated with this activity will be part of Rhode Island’s
“green industry profile”. Where Rhode Island is particularly well-positioned today is in climate change
response industries and green infrastructure
GG Full Cost accounting is needed to make these things even more apparent, but expecting to make money off climate change is a dangerous gamble as climate change will make people poorer.
RM Food Systems: Although the Food Service and Agricultural sectors are listed individually as focus
industries in Rhode Island, the connection between the two industries – the state’s “Food System” – is the
key to Rhode Island’s niche. Local food systems, generally considered to be food produced within a state
or within 100 to 400 miles of the place of consumption, represent a growing portion of consumer
spending with 70% of consumers indicating that they would be willing to pay up to 10% more for locally
GG How come there is no mention of what it would take to grow 20% of our food, and the need to do this as California succumbs to drought?
RM Many of the occupations that have
increased during that same period pay far less in annual
wages, which helps to explain the relatively low annual
average wage rate
GG And that trend will continue. The high tech future will provide very few jobs, and almost none for the folks who need a job the most.
Recent headline All wages are increasing, but highest gains to top earners
This is different in RI versus some places where ALL of the gains are going to the rich instead of just 90% because we still have labor unions. That we have better wage growth for working people compared to oligarchs in other states is considered a bad thing by the right wing, and sadly parroted by the people on Smith Hill.
Where do we want to be. Part 2
RM In 2035, Rhode Island will be a state…
Where the state as a whole is more competitive in the regional,
national and global economy, having a business climate that is
efficient, consistent and transparent.
GG What we need is a community that understands how the business climate is a deliberate scam to line the pockets of the rich.
RM Where individuals, entrepreneurs, and innovators of all
backgrounds will want to stay and work, and are supported and
GG What about everyone else? Are they being deported?
RM Where urban communities are reinvigorated with new investment
bringing new jobs, new housing options and improving the
quality of life for our most disadvantaged residents without
GG does this mean they get equity or displacement when old mills are rehabbed?
RM Where the labor force is one that is strong and diverse, has access
to excellent educational and life-long learning opportunities, and
can adapt to regular changes in the job market.
GG And we work to create jobs based on who is already here rather than some mythical folks to attract.
RM Where a sustainable economy preserves, sustains, and restores
the natural environment, protects and nurtures public health,
improves the resiliency of our built environment, and creates
green collar jobs.
GG What shall we shrink to create this space??
This is my response to pages 70 to 72. I did not copy the text from the report.
GG Growth centers in a time of no growth. What level of growth is necessary for these kinds of things (essentially everything in the report) to make sense? 4%, 3% Will it work with 1% or zero percent? Why has that not been taken into account?
Trying to get more people into college when no one can afford it now??? How smart is that to saddle folks with that kind of debt? And the economy will still leave them behind. When do public colleges get the funding they need?
Where is the agriculture training in this?
RM Generally speaking, the rate at which firms invest in labor training has
broadly and significantly declined
GG In other words bosses are greedy and they expect the public to pick up the training of their workers while they continue to try to starve the public coffers.
RM The forum will work to increase the number of students that
participate in recognized high quality STEAM programs inside and outside of the school day.
It will also work to coordinate industry resources to maximize their impact on the number of
Rhode Islanders who are motivated and prepared to succeed in college level engineering,
engineering technology, computer science, and information technology degree programs.
GG Why is the study of the ecological crisis and the food supply not included in this list? No mention of living systems anywhere other than as food or medicine.
RM Bioscience stakeholders have recommended strengthening
higher education support for students in STEM fields, including academic and career
guidance, and exploring opportunities for industry-education collaboration in recruiting.
Defense stakeholders have recommended partnering with the engineering schools at URI and
UMASS Dartmouth and technician degree programs at New England Institute of Technology,
MTTI, CCRI, and other relevant institutions to support engineering pipeline programs and
recruitment of students into related undergraduate and graduate studies. Furthermore, they
cited the need to champion the realization of the URI College of Engineering’s Master Plan
and partner with them in building collaborative research areas and student learning
opportunities of high relevance to the industry.
GG Means we need to teach more ecology because bioscience makes no sense without understanding evolution and we need to have a much more literate community on climate change. And we need to give up killing people for money.
RM Leveraging real estate development to promote local retail, employer-assisted housing,
and community land trusts.
GG As long as we rely on real estate manipulations to drive our economy, we are in big trouble and priming ourselves for more bubbles. Bubbles reflect ecological reality. There is not much to invest in that gives obscene returns in a resource limited environment. So assets are inflated for fun and profit until they crash. Instead of leveraging, communities should just do it.
RM As the state experiences overarching economic progress, Rhode Island is finding the need for new
manufacturing real estate options including larger footprint manufacturing and wet lab space. In some
instances, the state may consider working with municipalities to identify areas appropriate for new
industrial buildings that meet these changing needs. The state and local communities may also find unique
opportunities in many of our historic industrial areas, particularly mill complexes, to meet these needs,
simultaneously providing a catalyst for community development. Decisions on whether to retain these
sites for industrial use or to re-use them for residential use is an important decision that both State and
local governments must consider carefully. The benefits of revitalized industrial use include higher fiscal
gains, greater participation in regional and global markets, and the retention of good-paying, career
building jobs56. On the housing side, where old buildings simply make poor candidates for industrial reuse,
those sites can be repurposed to meet important community housing needs.
GG As the state what?? Again the conflation between economic development and real estate speculation. Again a process that leaves out communities and denies to them the benefit of the economic activity that they are called upon to subsidize.
RM The economic implications of supporting food systems may be
small, in terms of jobs created and revenue generated,
compared with other local industries. However, this job growth
has been steady and stable, and is something that Rhode Island
already does well that it can continue to improve upon. Further,
maintaining productive farms serves multiple state goals for
land use, job creation, business development, and public health.
A recent study by the University of Rhode Island estimated the
economic impact of the agricultural sector at approximately
$170 million in generated revenue and nearly 1,800 jobs,
conservatively. The URI study notes that Rhode Island
historically had the second highest agricultural sales per acre in the US
GG But they do not want to really think about what it would mean to grow 20% of our food, and why climate change is going to make that a necessity if we are to have food security. Its a lack of vision and an unwillingness to realize climate change has changed everything.
RM LifeScience and MedTech
Rhode Island is home to a diverse set of life sciences and medtech entities, including research institutions,
drug and device developers, and manufacturers that are working to bring new therapeutics, instruments,
vaccines, software, and textiles to market. To realize the benefits of these assets, the community must
focus on areas of strength and niche market opportunities. One such niche is in the area of brain science,
where alignment between the research at Brown University’s Institute for Brain Science, the University of
Rhode Island’s Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, and Lifespan’s Prince Neurosciences Institute can
leverage the entrepreneurial and design community to create new technologies and products.
GG The more we do this, the more healthcare is unaffordable.
RM Maritime Cybersecurity
According to a recent survey by Southeastern New England Defense Alliance (SENEDIA), the Rhode
Island Defense sector directly employs 17,400 people, supports 400 companies, and has a $4 billion direct
and indirect economic impact. This includes both public and private sector defense organizations. The
presence of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Rhode Island provides a unique asset that
can be leverage by the state. SENEDIA is encouraging Rhode Island leaders to examine opportunities for
developing maritime cybersecurity capabilities to support both the defense industry and commercial ports.
In October of 2013, they produced a document titled, “Securing the Future: Understanding and
Advancing Rhode Island’s Defense Industry.” This document highlights the opportunity to develop a
Maritime Cybersecurity Center of Excellence as a top recommendation and provides greater detail on the
GG In a world gone mad this is a growth industry. We are responsible for our own mess with our violent government the leading creator of violence and weaponry on the planet.
RM The Defense Industry
While the defense industry has long been a part of Rhode Island, recent developments provide an
opportunity to rethink the role of this industry within the state. The Department of Defense (DOD)
continues to look at cost reductions through direct operational cuts and contractor cuts, and Rhode Island
needs to assist in managing cost savings, efficiencies, and overall military value. Recent federal budget
cuts of over $1 trillion will necessitate significant decisions by the DOD about operations that could affect
GG $1 trillion in cuts is just a drop in the bucket. We need to reduce military spending by 90%. The wars of the empire is what is bankrupting our country. If we did not spend oceans of money on this the budget would balance and we could do the things we ought to do. But it all goes down the drain hole to deprive others of their rights to their own countries.
The report followed with a series of specific recommendations. All involve spending more money on new and better ways to kill people. Nothing on how US policy of arming the world is what is making us unsafe. Nor anything on how corruption is inherent in this business. We need a peace economy.
RM Identify Rhode Island’s role in the New England regional food system, and create strategies to
support the growth of Rhode Island food related businesses utilizing the state’s
existing environmental, demographic, educational, and technological strengths.
GG RI should be preparing to grow at least 20% of its food in a New England that grows at least 50%.
Policy 4: Fuel the manufacturing renaissance and reinvest in Rhode Island’s unique
GG Stop the fantasy about the rejuvenation of manufacturing.
RM a. Create a Rhode Island Center for Design and Manufacturing.
This was followed by a series of recommendations. None of them are bad ideas, but the context of a steady state economy they are unlikely to be useful.
GG The following is code for expand the gas pipelines and pray for the frackers. It is horrible policy for a RI that needs to eliminate all use of fossil fuel.
RM Rhode Island has competitive rates as compared to its
neighbors, but there are growing concerns over cost spikes due to capacity issues that may impact
the manufacturing sector. To help address these concerns, the State will need to continue to
expand the work of the commercial and industrial energy efficiency program and increase
awareness of options for energy savings for businesses.
GG This week NGrid asked the PUC for a lower its rates for gas.
RM Policy 5: Transition to a knowledge, innovation, and technology driven economy
geared to greener, more sustainable outcomes.
GG Define sustainable
RM a. Pursue collaborations with our universities and hospitals to continue innovation in the fields
of design, ocean science, bioscience, neuroscience and medtech industry sectors.
One of Rhode Island’s most powerful economic assets is our collection of colleges and
universities. As discussed in Goal 1, the State works closely with these institutions in workforce
development and training. Further, related to knowledge and innovation, important collaboration
occurs in many of the fields best suited to Rhode Island. An example of one such niche is in the
area of brain science, where alignment between the research at Brown University’s Institute for
Brain Science, the University of Rhode Island’s Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, and Lifespan’s
Prince Neurosciences Institute can leverage the entrepreneurial and design community to create
new technologies and products
GG More from the medical industrial complex and the education industrial complex that we can not afford.
RM Performance Measures for Supporting Our Economic Strengths
The following performance measures will be tracked by the State to measure progress toward achieving
Goal 3 of this Economic Development Plan. These performance measures will be tracked over time and
presented in an annual “report card” by Statewide Planning.66
Spending, revenue, average wages, and job creation in the following sectors, compared with
neighboring states (particularly Connecticut and Massachusetts):
b. Port Industry and Commerce
d. Food System Elements
e. Arts and Culture
f. Life Science and MedTech
g. Maritime Cybersecurity
GG Do not seem to measure clean air or water, health of soils and forests and fisheries
RM Redevelopment Barriers. Urban communities generally do not have many opportunities for new
development on open parcels, which means redevelopment of existing historic, former industrial
buildings and other historic commercial properties, represents a significant portion of future investment.
Preserving these buildings is consistent with state and local goals, providing significant adaptive reuse
opportunities for housing, small business incubator space, small advance manufacturing businesses, artist
lofts, or other economic generators; but they are expensive to redevelop due to building rehabilitation and
fire codes which make it difficult for these projects to be economically viable. Further, many of these
sites have environmental issues such as brownfields that can be complicated and expensive to address.
With rents relatively low in the region compared to construction costs, developers often cannot recoup
costs without outside financial incentives. The historic tax credit program was largely viewed as a success
and a huge factor in major redevelopment projects, in addition to being described by some as “maybe the
only program that has ever worked.” Among the interviewees, it was acknowledged that the tax credit
program’s absence has made rehabilitation of historic structures – ever present in post-industrial
communities – very difficult, if not impossible. The relatively high cost of compliance with the state’s
building and fire codes – made stricter after the tragic Station Nightclub fire in West Warwick – was
widely acknowledged as a significant impediment to development and redevelopment efforts. Another
barrier is the variability in how codes are enforced and permitted across municipalities.
GG This is our problem in a nutshell. We have a mixed economy without acknowledging it. If the only way to redevelop Brownfields is with subsidy, then low income community members ought to be the ones getting the subsidy, not the rich. It is the need to generate profits that drives up the costs and leads us towards gentrification. What we really need to do with much of this land is downcycle it, return it to farm or forest or wetland. This fits better in a shrinking economy in which the restoring of natural systems starts to replace private consumption.
The issue of municipal regulations is an interesting one. My take is that every municipality should be able to hold people to stricter standards than the state requires in keeping with their own local values. This is in perfect alignment with the principle of decentralization, let the regulation be at the level closest to the people at which the system can operate.
GG Relying upon real estate speculation for development with tax breaks as a tool invites corruption
RM The statute assumes growth would occur
first and then necessitate infrastructure investment, when in fact substantial growth might not be
able to take place without first making the public investment in infrastructure to accommodate
The recommendation from this economic development plan is to revisit this issue and add
designated Growth Centers to the list of exemptions for the tax levy cap. This legislative
amendment will not only allow municipalities to realize the fiscal benefits of smart growth, but
will also encourage public infrastructure investment in these areas.
GG The public should just build infrastructure without borrowing money from the banks or Wall St.
RM f. Provide incentives to rehabilitate foreclosed/vacant properties into rental and homeownership
opportunities and explore the use of “sweat equity” programs for local residents to perform the
GG Secure land tenure for the marginalized is critical.
RM ED Goal 5: Create a stronger and more resilient Rhode Island.
Like so many other states in the U.S., Rhode Island is grappling with how to address new challenges and
capture new opportunities at a unique point in history. The financial pressures that have emerged from
the Great Recession, in combination with the growing impacts of climate change are forcing us to rethink
how we provide long-term support systems within our state and the northeast region. For Rhode Island,
our coastal exposure and aging infrastructure are simultaneously a challenge and an opportunity.
Increased storm severity and sea-level rise certainly provide what appears to be a daunting set of
circumstances. The most critical challenge, however, is the investment of adequate funding for ongoing
maintenance of transportation infrastructure. In Rhode Island, decreasing gas tax revenue, limited funding
sources, and increasing debt service costs led to a decline in the condition of Rhode Island’s
infrastructure. Simply put, neither Rhode Island nor the federal government has been able to keep up with
the needs of our aging infrastructure. However, our State’s capacity for scientific and policy innovation
provide an unmatched opportunity to revolutionize how we develop and maintain infrastructure, become
resilient and even thrive in the face of global pressures, and perhaps demonstrate to other places how they
too can adapt.
How can we be more resilient without massive increase in agriculture? And restored wetlands. And can we be resilient if our goals do not match our reality?
Maybe we ought to start depaving. It would help us manage stormwater and prevent floods.
RM Few services provided by governments are more important than administering regulations that protect the
public’s health, safety and welfare. Unfortunately, as regulatory frameworks grow over time, incremental
change can have unintended consequences and regulations can become cumbersome and expensive to
follow. For example, it is not unusual for licensing requirements and fees to become barriers to businesses
trying to enter or expand. In other instances, multi-layered permitting requirements can increase the cost
and time required for development or redevelopment projects to reach construction.
GG We have to ask what responsibility do the businesses that complain about regulation have for mucking up the regulations? It is a lot. Until that is openly acknowledged we are not playing on a level field as we try to solve this problem. The rules are difficult because the businesses are always trying to get around them. And to keep them in check, to prevent backsliding and cheating, while the regulatory staffs are underfunded, again the responsibility of the right wing wackos, we need complicated rules, especially as the current rules allow damage rather than setting emissions at zero.
RM Health insurance costs were consistently
identified as the primary challenge to business,
followed by state, then federal regulations.
Local ordinances ranked low on the concern
list for small businesses, but there is often
confusion about which ordinances are state level
and which are local.
GG So how about single payer and a discussion of our use of the health care economy as an economic driver in driving up the costs.
RM As of Period Two, the top impacts on small
business are audit, inspection, and enforcement
GG So when do the businesses do a better job of self regulating? Probably never until ecological principles are integrated into everything we do.
RM regulations. Finally, ORR
has a Regulatory Ombudsman on staff to assist businesses with
navigating complex or confusing regulatory issues.
GG If we have this, when do the people trying to stop bad shit get the same courtesy and an Ombudsman to help them???
RM The Office of Regulatory Reform does not currently have the charge or the staff capacity to review local
regulations and assist municipalities in developing more streamlined, efficient, and consistent regulations
and processes. This should be part of the consideration as that office grows.
GG So when do we give up the tax cutting bullshit??
RM Impact to construction.
GG When your economy is construction led it is going to suck most of the time and be very subject to boom, bust, and waste. Stop wanting or expecting real estate and construction to lead development.
RM Focusing on increasing the construction pipeline in the State as an economic development
strategy will create more jobs and, by building more housing, provide more affordable housing in the
communities where it’s most needed.
GG This is a flat out lie. We build affordable housing only when communities mandate it. And the rent is still too damn high.
RM • Diet related chronic disease is a major factor driving the cost of healthcare in Rhode Island, and across the
United States. Countries with lower rates of obesity typically have lower healthcare spending and higher life
expectancy. The higher the cost of healthcare the lower the GDP.
GG So Ban GMOs and stop using the medical industrial complex for economic development., Ban cars.
RM Healthcare is one of the highest costs of operating a business. The average cost to insure a family of four is
approximately $15,000 per year. This cost prohibits many employers from expanding their operations, and the
health of the population is a deciding factor in where to locate a business.
GG single payer would solve this easily and at a much lower cost to everyone. It would also help us put prevention front and center in our heath care system.
RM Small business ownership and new business creation are two areas in which Rhode Island performs fairly
well. The State ranked 14th out of all states in small business ownership rates and as high as 9th in new
business creation.111 However, the same report indicates that Rhode Island ranks 39th in entrepreneurial
activity, likely due to the barriers discussed below.
GG I need a much better explanation of this one. High in business ownership and creation, low in entrepreneurial activity. Weird ways of measuring .
RM Existing programs for entrepreneurial and small business loans should be expanded and
connecting these programs more strategically to urban core areas can help facilitate innovation in
these areas. A 2014 study found that a full “three-quarters of all the economic development
dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large
corporations” — leaving little toward the small businesses and start-ups that are arguably in
greater need of funds and could make better use of them.114
GG This may be the most telling thing in the whole report. We say small business, small business, and then we just hand out money to the already rich. The state of RI would be well served to have a rules that says no business that does more than $500,000 in a year can get any sort of subsidy, tax break or anything else from the state, that all of our assistance will go to actual small businesses.
RM a. Develop a network of neighborhood health stations throughout Rhode Island to bring
routine health care services closer to those who need them most.
The Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) has promoted an idea for significantly reducing
medical care and insurance costs while improving the health of Rhode Island residents. This
proposal calls for creating a network of neighborhood health stations, where neighborhood
residents could receive the majority of their health care services. Estimates of annual costs of
providing all routine preventative health services, including immunizations, as well as chronic
disease management and management of most acute illnesses, are equivalent to the current
administrative costs of health insurance, about $800/person/year. Creation of a primary care trust
fund could finance a transition to this type of system. Neighborhood health centers can be an
anchor for growth centers and villages throughout the state, and should be accounted for in local
zoning. DOH should study the potential impacts of this strategy on the current healthcare delivery
system, and develop pilot neighborhood health centers that can test and evaluate the approach.
GG Its about time.
RM 172 implementation
Create a state level urban redevelopment initiative designed to increase capacity and streamline
redevelopment within urban communities. High Priority
GG How many of the people running this agency will be low income? And will the agency remember that if low income folks do not get ownership of the land all the benefits flow out of the community?
RM Convene a Resilient Economy Collaborative to follow-up on findings and key economic
development recommendations of A Resilient RI: Being Practical about Climate Change (June 2014),
Economic Intersections of Rhode Island (Feb 2014) and Understanding the Opportunities and Impact of
Climate Change (Draft April 2014)
GG Good but not enough