AT THE OPENING SESSION of the 2013 Rhode Island Economic Summit, Adriana Dawson, director of the R.I. Small Business Development Center, welcomes 190 business leaders and 30 members of the R.I. General Assembly.
WARWICK – The message to business leaders at the 2013 Rhode Island Economic Summit on Friday was to be honest about what needs to be done in the state to improve the economic climate and to develop recommendations for state legislators to address in the next session of the General Assembly.
“This event is to insure we galvanize the business community and legislators in dialogue about the opportunities, as well the challenges preventing them from sustainability and growth,” R.I. Small Business Development Center State Director Adriana Dawson told 190 business leaders and 30 legislators in the opening session of the summit, held at the Radisson Hotel in Warwick.
“Let’s champion our success stories and play to our strengths,” urged Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, in the opening session of the half-day summit. “We can do more. We have to have a sense of urgency.”
Encouraging legislators and business leaders to be inclusive, innovative and collaborative, Steinberg said Rhode Island has all the potential and inherent qualities that have put neighboring states Massachusetts and Connecticut farther along in economic development.
Steinberg urged the group to mine the rich potential of the state’s diversity.
“We ignore the changing demographics at our peril. Our capital city of Providence has a Latino mayor. That’s where we are,” said Steinberg, referring to Providence’s first Hispanic mayor Angel Taveras. “We have to embrace our changing demographics.”
Priorities of the Rhode Island Foundation and positive goals for the state include eliminating disparities, lowering the unemployment rate to one on level with unemployment in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and raising incomes to match neighboring states, Steinberg said.
“The legislators did some good work on economic development in the last session. Now we need to focus on ‘we’ and not be slowed down by special interests,” said Steinberg.
Summit participants divided into breakout sessions on economic development, taxes and budget, regulations, workforce development and main street issues. Each group was charged with developing a set of recommendations to present to state leaders scheduled to attend the summit, including Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed and Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, and other legislative leaders.
“The real message here is urgency, action and involvement,” said Steinberg. “The answers are here, we just need to join together to be a cohesive voice and a positive voice.”
The 2013 Economic Summit, cosponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the R.I. Small Business Development Center at Johnson & Wales University, is designed to encourage an open dialogue about how to improve the state’s business environment and promote small-business advocacy. Local business owners were encouraged to attend.