SMITHFIELD- Rhode Island is in a jobs crisis. At 9.2 percent, our state has the highest unemployment rate in the country, but that number does not fully capture how bad things really are. Between people who are under-employed and those who have stopped looking for work, our unemployment rate is actually closer to 15 percent. To address this pressing problem, we need a governor with vision who will set the tone at the top and make job creation the number one priority.
This morning, Gina began to lay out a comprehensive plan to grow our economy and create jobs. This plan will encompass: 1) rebuilding our infrastructure 2) supporting start-ups and small businesses — particularly with regulatory reform — 3) promoting tourism 4) a strategy to reclaim Rhode Island’s place as a leader in manufacturing 5) improving our workforce development efforts. Today’s focus was manufacturing and workforce development.
Manufacturing is in Rhode Island’s DNA. But as tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs left our state, far too many of our leaders sat by and did nothing to position our state to take advantages of new opportunities and new markets.
“Every Rhode Islander has a manufacturing story to tell; my own father worked at the Bulova Watch factory for 28 years before it closed and the jobs went overseas,” said Gina. “And while the textile and jewelry making of our past might not be coming back, the global manufacturing landscape is beginning to change and for the first time in decades, manufacturing is returning to the United States. But it’s higher skill, high tech, advanced manufacturing so we need to act with urgency and have a strategy to seize this opportunity and ensure that our state is getting those jobs.»
In order to build our advanced manufacturing economy and make Rhode Island a leader in manufacturing again, Gina is calling for a three-pronged approach: fostering innovation, with a focus on our strengths, preparing our workforce with 21st century skills and doing more to support our existing manufacturers to help them grow:
In order to ensure we are attracting advanced manufacturing jobs, we need to make Rhode Island a research and development hub, Gina will establish the Rhode Island Innovation Institute, or RI II, to do just that.
RI II will link our world-class local colleges and universities with businesses and the private sector so that the ideas coming out of our research institutions get turned into products that we make in Rhode Island. And this will attract manufacturers from around the world who want to be close to a hub of research and development.
There are innovation institutes like these opening up all over the country. For example:
In Ohio they’re creating a Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute to manufacture next-generation metals for cars and airplanes
In North Carolina they’ve set up an Innovation Institute to create new superconductors and computer chips, which they’ll manufacture right there in-state.
RI II will help create jobs in both the short and long term and will provide a wide range of employment opportunities:
Construction jobs to build the campuses themselves.
Administrative support staff and people with new ideas who will work on the campuses
Advanced manufacturing jobs to make the new products and processes coming out of RI II.
To prepare Rhode Island’s workforce for the advanced manufacturing jobs that will require a high degree of technical competency, computer skills, and knowledge of STEM fields we will need to:
Increase our students’ exposure to science, technology, engineering and math—the STEM fields— at a young age.
Take advantage of our amazing arts and design community here in Rhode Island and ensure that we are turning STEM into “STEAM,” by adding a capital A for Arts.
Make the Community College of Rhode Island an engine of workforce development, by connecting it with businesses and manufacturers to tailor curriculums and training programs for exactly the types of skills that they’ll need to put Rhode Islanders to work, and create a pipeline of well-trained employees.
Ensure that all of our students have access to higher education, by improving our state scholarship fund.
Create a loan-forgiveness program for graduates who stay in Rhode Island to work or start a business, so that we stop losing talent to other states.
In South Carolina, BMW has paired up with some of the state’s community colleges to create a «scholars program,» where BMW provides tuition assistance to students putting them to work in their facilities part-time. This gives them the education they need while training them in skills that BMW needs, and creates a pipeline of talented workers with skills that will get them jobs.
The Alamo Academies in Texas train students in programs that are designed with the help of local employers — who also provide students with paid internships. The students get an education in an expertise that will get them a job, and the employers get a skilled workforce.
Supporting our existing manufacturers
We need to be doing everything we can to help our existing local manufacturers grow and thrive. We can do this by:
Creating a “Manufacturers’ Toolkit” to help their businesses grow
Helping our manufacturers increase exports to new markets with research, branding efforts, and promotions.