By Chris Barrett
PBN Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island needs to speed up its permitting process if it wants to attract industrial businesses, a consultant hired by the R.I. Economic Development Corporation said in a report released late Monday.
The 126-page Statewide Strategic Plan for Office and Industrial Site Development explored the real estate needs of existing businesses and what the state should do to attract new ones.
Gov. Donald L. Carcieri hailed the report. “Having a clear site development strategy is a critical component of our overall economic development plan,” he said in a statement. “Matching our physical assets to different economic segments, including biotechnology and life sciences, green technologies, and high-tech manufacturing, will allow the state to better target and attract companies to locate here.”
The report by Moran, Stahl & Boyer LLC, a Lakewood Ranch, Fla.-based consulting firm, comes as Rhode Island deals with an exodus of manufacturing work. From 2001 to 2008, the state lost 20,000 manufacturing jobs, nearly 30 percent of the total, the report said. Yet over the same period, manufacturing’s contribution to the state’s gross domestic product increased 18 percent.
The job losses could have a number of causes, but the report zeroed in on two factors preventing new companies from moving here: the permitting process, which it said can take more than a year, and a dearth of “shovel ready” development sites.
With the exception of selected sites within the Highland Corporate Park in Cumberland and the business parks in West Greenwich and Quonset, companies face a complex array of permitting regulations that vary by community and can take weeks or months, the report said. By contrast, some Southern and Midwestern states can deliver state permits in fewer that two months and local permits in fewer than 30 days.
In Rhode Island, there is also “confusion and indecision on fire code,” which stems growth, the report said.
The report suggested cataloging major industrial and commercial sites and developing a certification program that would help speed the development of new corporate headquarters, research labs and manufacturing facilities. The report also recommended creating a working group to draft consistent building codes statewide and establishing an ombudsman’s office at the state level to explore ways of shortening permit reviews.
Drafting master plans for potential development areas would also help, the report suggested. The consultants identified 13 broad areas for development, including the Interstate 295 and Interstate 95 corridors; the area near the University of Rhode Island; and the area on Aquidneck Island near Naval Station Newport.
Aquidneck Island holds potential to develop the defense industry further and areas in Providence and South Kingstown near universities could help incubator businesses, the report said.
Areas along the highways could support light industrial uses and some office space, but the southern portion of Interstate 95 faces challenges due to the lack of a public water supply and sewer systems.
Rhode Island also needs to shed its perception as a high-tax state and overcome the fact that many of its existing buildings are old mills that would require substantial renovation. The report says that reinstating the historic-building tax credit for mill and industrial redevelopment could help spur development of older properties and keep them on the market.