PROVIDENCE – Poor unemployment figures and stumbling markets have made it difficult to stay in business in Rhode Island’s private sector, which is why the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce hosted a brainstorming session with developers, marketing experts, entrepreneurs and academia members.
The session, held Wednesday morning, was designed to identify common problems in making it easier to start – and maintain – a small business.
“It’s time for the private sector to lead,” said Jon Duffy, president of Duffy & Shanley Inc. and chair of the chamber board of directors. “The current situation today is unacceptable.”
Answers ran the gamut of concerns but included the need for an overhaul in the state’s educational system in order to close the so-called “skill gap” - the void the state faces when it comes to filling hi-tech opportunities.
Some participants mentioned apprentice programs or mentoring programs as part of the solution while others suggested better guidance in navigating through the process.
From the beginning of the meeting at the Providence Marriott Downtown, it was clear that industry wanted a voice in the discussion. Notably absent was the presence of any political official. Instead, area businesses were center stage.
“Growth means different things to different people,” said Charlie Kroll, president and CEO of Andera, Inc., which creates online account openings for financial institutions. “In terms of economic development we talk about job creation. Companies talk about it in a different way, we think about customers.
“The number one thing that’s holding my growth back is access to talent. There’s a high unemployment rate out there, but there are two rates. In the hi-tech sector the unemployment rate is very low,” Kroll added.
Allan Tear of Betaspring noted that new startups are good investments, adding that they are much more capital efficient than larger companies.
Panelists included Laurie White of the Providence Chamber of Commerce, Allan Tear of Betaspring, Max Winograd of NuLabel Technologies, Alden Anderson of CBRE/New England, John Davenport of the Institute for Brain Science at Brown University, Marcel A. Valois of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island, Bonnie Bennett of Johnson & Wales University, Neil Steinberg of Rhode Island Foundation Barbara Schoenfeld of Brooks, Houghton & Co., Inc. and Greg Mancini of BuildRI.
Over 50 companies attended the event and the Chamber said it plans to revisit the topic at future meetings.