[Ed. Note: Following is the speech given by Angus Davis upon accepting the Innovator of the Year award during the 2010 Rhode Island Innovation Awards competition celebration, held at Bryant University on Sept. 22.]
As I view our world through an entrepreneurial lens, I often see things as a set of problems to be solved.
In this spirit, I’d like to share a glimpse into four challenges I have experienced starting a high-tech business in Rhode Island. Working together, we can address these, using the same sort of innovative thinking that has brought us to this celebration.
• Rhode Island has a shortage of skilled workers. In 2009 unemployment for those with a college degree was just 4.6 percent, [according to a story in The New York Times by Tamar Lewin published on Sept. 21]. In my industry, the rate is closer to zero. Rhode Island lacks human capital with experience in software development. Recruiting is difficult in developed markets like San Francisco or New York, but in Rhode Island, finding skilled software engineers is a daunting challenge. We must do more to attract the best and brightest to our state, and keep them.
• Transporting talented workers to Rhode Island is too difficult. My strategy [for] the talent problem has been recruiting from Boston, and reimbursing the cost of Amtrak. The train takes 40 minutes from South Station, and costs $400 per month, per employee. Monthly passes are not accepted on Acela, eliminating half the schedule. Worse, Providence lacks a worker-friendly transportation system: employees cannot get from the train station to the Knowledge District. We must better connect our businesses to the hubs of talent transportation.
• Rhode Island’s political leadership is not friendly to job creation. My business depends on Internet advertising. Providence Business News’ most-read story in 2009 was about the affiliate tax, a scheme that effectively blocks Internet advertising businesses from operating here by killing our ability to sell advertising to major online retailers. As one of only three states with this law, we are shut out of a rapidly growing $45 billion industry. We must greet new industries with open arms, not put up roadblocks.