Unless you’ve been getting your news mainly from the governor’s official press release feed, you may have heard that Rhode Island has dropped back down to last place on CNBC’s top states for business:
In the previous 10 years, Rhode Island has been ranked 50th four times, 49th twice and 48th twice. For each of the last two years, the state was ranked 45th.
“Having our rating drop even lower is disappointing but not surprising,” House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “In recent months, I have repeatedly called attention to the fact that our economy is losing ground compared to other states, despite years of major investment to reverse that. Government needs to do a better job of letting new and established companies conduct their business here in a timely manner.” …
Mattiello said Rhode Island needs “fundamental changes in the way state departments and agencies interact with businesses.” He cited the Department of Labor and Training and the Department of Environmental Management and said businesses need “real regulatory relief … not more fines and bigger hassles.”
The most disappointing aspect is that Mattiello’s talk doesn’t match his actions. You just finished a legislative session. That was your opportunity to have an effect.
The subindexes of CNBC’s ranking give some indication of the state government’s flawed approach to economic development, comparing 2019 to 2018. In particular, if you’re trying to kick-start the economy in a top-down way, one of the levers you can control is access to capital, and indeed, Rhode Island improved for this iteration of the ranking, from 43rd to 39th. Nonetheless, the Ocean sank from 28th to 48th when it comes to the economy.
At the end of the article, one of the governor’s many PR flacks (Matt Sheaff, who works for the Commerce secretary) offers a list of carefully chosen economic statistics to suggest the opposite — delusional and sunny — conclusion. Sheaff’s list is suspiciously similar to one that Bryant University Economics Professor Edinaldo Tebaldi offered in a recent essay for GoLocalProv. I’ve got a response forthcoming on that site, so I won’t go into detail, here, but suffice it to say that every point is either fleeting, misleading, or not as significant as it seems.
Our state is languishing and, over the long term, losing ground within the United States, and that needs to change. The sad thing is that Rhode Island really does have so much potential, if it would just throw off the excess baggage that our elected officials continually layer on us.