In the roughly six months since he took over leadership at the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, Marcel A. Valois has instilled a sense of calm at the agency. But as difficult as that accomplishment no doubt was, given the fallout from the 38 Studios LLC collapse, it was the easy part.
The challenge facing Mr. Valois – who in this case functions as the embodiment of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s approach to economic development – is how to help improve the state’s economy while working with a much-diminished toolkit than that available to previous EDC directors.
The governor is fond of saying that state government should make sure it is blocking and tackling well. And there is value in that approach.
For instance, one could say that Gov. Chafee has turned to his background in the U.S. Senate and transformed the EDC into a constituent-services office. But as satisfied as the EDC’s “constituents,” i.e., Rhode Island businesses, may be with this approach, it seems unlikely to move Rhode Island out of the economic ditch it finds itself in.
There is much ground between lending $75 million to a high-risk venture and selecting a customer-relationship management system to track interactions between the EDC and businesses that come to the agency for assistance, although the recently announced selection of Salesforce to handle the EDC’s CRM needs is a good thing.
Of course, with the governor not running for re-election, Mr. Valois may only have another year in office, so the path of quiet competence may be the only one that he can realistically take. It’s just that Rhode Island needs so much more than that. •
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