THE HERALD NEWS: Gov. Gina Raimondo: Forget Mass., R.I.’s real competition is southern states As originally appearing in The Herald News
BY MATT MURPHY
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — As the governor of the smallest state in New England, Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo on Thursday said she doesn’t see her state in competition with her coastal cousin to the north for jobs and businesses.
But that didn’t stop her from plugging Rhode Island to Bostonian business leaders anyway.
“It’s more important than ever that we think of ourselves as part of a regional economy,” Raimondo said, speaking at a luncheon hosted by the New England Council at Bank of America in downtown Boston.
Despite their party affiliations, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, and Raimondo, a Democrat, have become close as newly elected governors in bordering states. Both attended each other’s inaugurations, have shared lunches and are working together on energy cost and supply issues for the region.
“I know he’s a Republican and a little too tall … ,” said Raimondo, “But he’s a good man and hard-working and we enjoy a great relationship.” She would later add, “I’m never posing in a photograph with him again unless he’s seated. He’s at least a foot taller than me.”
Since attending a summit in Hartford, Connecticut in April with four other New England governors, Raimondo told the News Service, there have been follow-up meetings and conference calls between herself, Baker and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy as they work on a request for proposals from energy suppliers for renewable energy like wind, solar, and other non-carbon emitting sources.
Rhode Island has beat Massachusetts to the punch in developing deep-water wind power, and Raimondo said this week she announced plans for a “highly-efficient” $700 million gas power plant in Burrillville in northern Rhode Island that will feed 900 megawatts of power into the New England grid.
“Forget about competing against each other, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We as a region need to compete with the Carolinas – North Carolina, South Carolina – Florida, Texas, Louisiana,” she said in reference to energy prices putting pressure on businesses.
Raimondo said she, like Baker, supports increasing natural gas capacity to the region. A number of pipeline projects have been proposed for New England, but many are facing intense community and environmental opposition.
Raimondo used the rest of her time speaking to over 100 business and legal professionals from Massachusetts and Rhode Island to tout her efforts to make Rhode Island a better place to do business. The Ocean State’s unemployment rate in June stood at 5.9 percent, more than full percentage point higher than the 4.6 percent unemployed in Massachusetts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The governor spoke of refocusing job training programs to prepare workers for jobs in specific industries like life sciences and information technology to meet the needs of hiring businesses rather than tailoring programs around the categories of people they might serve, such as veterans or high-school dropouts.
Raimondo also highlighted a new college loan forgiveness program that offers graduates of Rhode Island colleges partial or full loan forgiveness if they agree to take a job or start a business in the science, technology, engineering or math fields and stay in Rhode Island for at least four years.
“We are ready to ignite an economic comeback. I recommend you buy real estate now. Prices are going up,” Raimondo said, adding at another point, “If anybody’s lease is up in this expensive real estate market in Boston, I want you to call me.”
Among those who turned out to hear Raimondo speak were Baker’s Assistant Secretary for Business Development Nam Pham, former House Ways and Means Chair Paul Haley, from Barclays Capital, former attorney general and Foley Hoag attorney Martha Coakley, U.S. Health and Human Services Regional Director Rachel Kaprielian and her predecessor Christie Hagar, and David Friedman, a one-time Senate staffer who works as a special counsel for the Red Sox front office.
Outgoing Red Sox CEO and Pawtucket Red Sox owner Larry Lucchino is currently engaged in negotiations with Raimondo’s administration to move the AAA team from Pawtucket to an undeveloped parcel of land in downtown Providence near the waterfront and universities.
Asked by New England Council President Jim Brett about the land made available by the rerouting of Interstate 195, Raimondo did not mention a new ballpark, but said, “My vision for that land is to make it a center for innovation,” with business incubators, university lab space and more.
While Massachusetts residents have plenty of urban and beach destinations within their home state’s borders, Raimondo also mentioned efforts underway to consolidate her state’s tourism development efforts and to rebrand and market the state as a destination.
“Hopefully you’ll see billboards in South Station telling you to come hang out in Rhode Island,” she said.