Think back to the end of August 2011 when Hurricane Irene unleashed chaos across New England, and Rhode Island’s residents and small business owners felt the repercussions for weeks — power outages, destroyed property and buildings, financial burdens. Then, just over a year later, we were hit again by Hurricane Sandy, causing extensive damage and disruption to lives and businesses along the East Coast.
These recent events have focused our attention and sparked a deeper conversation about the impacts of climate variability. Communities are contemplating how to prepare for and react to the effects of climate variability, but it’s not only homeowners and environmental advocates who are concerned. Increasingly, there is recognition of the potential impact on and opportunity for businesses across nearly every sector. While it will be important for companies to plan how best to adapt to a changing climate and recover from a disaster, it will also be important to identify opportunities for using Rhode Island as a test bed for developing, and then exporting, new solutions to these challenges.
Assessment of the vulnerability of Rhode Island’s critical transportation, utility and energy infrastructure caused by climate disruptions is important to the private sector’s confidence that the state can minimize the impact of natural climatic events on the region’s economy.
The development of a thoughtful, realistic and actionable approach to how Rhode Island can recover from natural disasters and climatic disruptions can be an important selling point when attempting to attract new investment. This kind of planning can provide assurances that businesses will sustain minimal impact on operations and employees can get back to work quicker.
Resiliency planning and climate variability adaptation represents an emerging economic opportunity in the fields of planning, engineering, architecture, marine sciences, alternative energy and natural resource-based industries — all of which have a home here in Rhode Island.
Ultimately, planning and adaptation to climate variability for businesses and communities will require training and technical assistance resources, which can spur job creation as industries respond to this market opportunity.
Commerce RI will continue to support improvement in the overall business cost climate in Rhode Island. As the state continues to work to create a clear, predictable and reliable regulatory system, any new regulations and rules adopted in relation to climate variability planning should be done at a neutral cost to business. This will strengthen economic growth and improve competitiveness, while protecting taxpayer interests.
Commerce RI asked Fourth Economy Consulting to prepare a working paper on “Understanding the Economic Development Opportunity and Impact of Climate Change,” which is available on our website at commerceRI.com under the Resources tab. By better understanding the risks and opportunities, we can not only better prepare for the economic impact of climate variability, but we can improve our economy and make Rhode Island a leader in climate variability planning and adaptation.
Marcel Valois is executive director of Commerce RI, formerly the R.I. Economic Development Corporation.