PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee met Thursday with government and private-sector leaders to present his vision for a "back-to-basics" approach to economic development following the collapse of former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company.
Chafee convened the roomful of officials — ranging from the head of the state AFL-CIO to an executive at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce — in an attempt to put new life into lifting the state's sagging economy and efforts to improve a business climate that is consistently given low marks.
Rhode Island has struggled with the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, now at 10.7 percent.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting at the Economic Development Corp., Chafee said he was open to the appointment of a commerce secretary to oversee economic development but does not have a timetable for making a decision.
The creation of a new state office of commerce, with a commerce secretary appointed by the governor, was one of the recommendations of an outside review of the EDC that Chafee commissioned after the collapse of Schilling's 38 Studios. The EDC approved a $75 million loan guarantee for 38 Studios as a way to lure it from Massachusetts. The company's bankruptcy filing in June likely leaves the state on the hook for some $100 million related to the deal.
The review by the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council also recommended that the EDC be absorbed into the new state commerce office and "rebranded" the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. Chafee said he had not made a decision on that recommendation.
The governor, an independent, described his vision for economic development as one that gets back to basics — helping existing businesses grow. The goal is "to take our assets in the state and make them work for us," he said.
Chafee's administration will conduct a business climate analysis and develop tax strategies designed to make the state more competitive in New England. He also wants to enhance existing or proposed economic clusters, including the so-called Knowledge District on the edge of downtown, the Quonset industrial park in North Kingstown and the Station District in the Warwick.
Chafee and others described the meeting as productive. Neil Steinberg, head of the Rhode Island Foundation, said there seemed to be a consensus on the need for a single person to coordinate economic development efforts, no matter what that person's job title is. Steinberg also stressed the importance of a joint effort among public and private sectors.
"Everybody needs to step up. It was clear. It's not in the hands of one sector or another," he said.