R.I. earns poor marks in report on manufacturing climate and potential

Rhode Island will likely never become a manufacturing mecca but should not feel the need to aspire to be one, says the author of a national report on manufacturing. More

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Focus: MANUFACTURING

R.I. earns poor marks in report on manufacturing climate and potential

Posted 7/12/10

Rhode Island will likely never become a manufacturing mecca but should not feel the need to aspire to be one, says the author of a national report on manufacturing.

In an annual report, economics professor Michael Hicks from Ball State University in Indiana graded states in eight categories that “underline the success of manufacturing and logistics.” Rhode Island ranked poorly in almost every category, coming in as the 10th worst state with an overall grade of a D.

The “2010 Manufacturing & Logistics National Report” said Rhode Island lacked the infrastructure and proximity to major transit hubs for manufacturing to take root. The state also fared poorly because it lacks a work force trained in manufacturing and has high costs of doing business, including employee benefit costs and property taxes. The state has continually bounced around the bottom rankings of the states, though the 2010 report marked an improvement from 2009, when Rhode Island ranked dead last. This year Alaska took the bottom spot and Indiana the No. 1 spot.

Hicks said Rhode Island’s poor rankings come as little surprise. The urban state has comparatively little manufacturing, which can mean little focus on educational programs aimed at manufacturers, which leads to a dearth of skilled workers.

And the sprawl of urban development leaves little land for large manufacturing plants. Meanwhile the state’s high unemployment rate and overall poor economy has left state and local lawmakers looking for new revenue and often turning to businesses.

Hicks said that mix tends to scare off large manufacturers like automotive companies that build sprawling factories and employ thousands of workers. But smaller, specialized firms looking to tap into the region’s universities may find those barriers surmountable.

“If this were Kentucky with these scores I’d be terribly worried,” Hicks said. “But for Rhode Island … manufacturing isn’t necessarily the route to prosperity so ranking poorly on this scorecard … shouldn’t worry Rhode Island so much.”

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