One of the most important goals that former R.I. Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Keith W. Stokes set when he took the job in early 2010 was the need to measure the results that the state’s various economic-development programs were producing. The lack of any such controls was exposed by a two-part series in Providence Business News in June 2010 that documented how little the state knew about the companies it had supported through the federally funded Small Business Loan Fund and its related microloan fund. Despite federal reporting requirements, the state had no idea how many jobs the recipient companies currently had. In addition, the failure rate of the loans was double that of similar commercial loans made by banks.
A task force was formed to devise the metrics to use to evaluate the effectiveness of that program and others, but as it was about to start building the tools for evaluation, the governor’s office diverted Department of Revenue personnel to study state gambling revenue as well as other budget issues. And once 38 Studios went into a tailspin, all resources were put onto studying that problem.
Meanwhile, the state still has many active investments, as well as tax credits outstanding, without any real sense of what they are doing. If Rhode Island plans on doing any economic-development investing in the future – something that makes sense in a number of areas that promise to deliver jobs to a desperate economy – it must know which programs are worth supporting and which should be mothballed. And to do that, resources must be freed up to do a serious study.
Most importantly, Curt Schilling’s failure must not drag important state efforts down with it. •