Repair of the Rhode Island economy is elusive, but easily within reach. It really comes down to management style. First the problem.
Rhode Island seems to be always at or near the bottom of employment and business climate. Is it because we are not as smart as the rest of America? No, of course not. On average Rhode Islanders are a very highly educated people compared to the rest of the country. So what is the problem? The problem is that the people that we have elected for many years are entrenched in a bottom up management style.
In a bottom up management style, our governor and legislature, as well as local politicians, look at the needs, wants and desires of the people and try to be accommodating. While it is very important to be cognitive of these things, if this is the driver of a tax, spending, and regulatory policy, it is inherently defective and as a result you will have educated young people, and both skilled and unskilled workers who can’t find work and need to leave our state or go on welfare rolls. The result is chronic unemployment and underemployment.
The solution to the problem is by adopting a top down management style. We need to understand that a state, and even a city or a town, competes for private sector job creators and entrepreneurs. We need to understand that if a state or community is not competitive that job creators will seek a better environment to build their businesses. Here in Rhode Island we are in direct competition with Massachusetts and Connecticut communities. We need to build our state and local government business models to be competitive with that of our neighbors. In a top down management style in government, the primary goal is to be competitive in tax, spending and regulatory policies while at the same time being fully aware of the larger communities’ needs.
We need to understand that government does not create jobs, it just has employees. A town, city or state is only as healthy as its private sector. If the private sector is sick as it is here in Rhode Island, then government is starved of tax revenue, but when the private sector is healthy, then government has a steady supply of tax revenue to take care of the infrastructure, school, police, fire and the social service needs of the community at large.
I would encourage our local politicians to think about this — in every business decision that you make, ask yourself this question: “Does this decision make our community more or less competitive with our neighbors?” Only by changing management style are we going to reverse a very damaged state and local economy and give our citizens the economic opportunities that they deserve.
The writer is a former candidate for the Westerly Town Council.