Today, Fourth Economy will be meeting with Rhode Island’s Governor Chafee, members of the legislature, and other stakeholders to discuss the findings of our Economic Development Data Analysis and Assessment. The report comes after two months working closely with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, the Statewide Planning Program, and the Office of Regulatory Reform as part of a larger Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. The report analyzes Rhode Island’s business climate, industry clusters, regulatory environment, financial resources, and marketing efforts.
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About the Partnership for Sustainable Communities
The Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a coalition between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), began in 2009 as a federal initiative to improve the social and economic status of communities nationwide. To achieve its aims, the partnership focuses on the coordination of community-wide investments in housing, transportation, water and other infrastructure, within the framework of sustainable livability.
Fourth Economy, supported by Kevin McAvey of Economic Partners, Inc. and Britt Page of Britt Page Consulting, were selected to assist Rhode Island with the first phase of that endeavor. As we always like to partner with local firms, having Kevin, who is based out of Cambridge, MA and Britt, who is based out of Providence, RI, was important to us. Our team worked with a wide array of partners in order to quickly get an understanding of where Rhode Island’s economy is, where it’s been, and to adequately assess the state of economic development. In addition to the State office and agencies with whom we were working, we also consulted the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the Rhode Island Foundation. We also interviewed numerous businesses. Rhode Island is fortunate in that it has so many organizations interested in promoting economic development, many of which have already conducted their own studies, plans, or initiatives to do so. Fourth Economy referenced their collective work and built off of their experience.
Moving Beyond the Rankings
First, to assess the business climate, our team examined a number of business climate rankings. When we started this, we immediately saw that a great deal of attention was being paid to national rankings and especially the position the state is in – often near or at the bottom. On one level, rankings are important as they leave an overall impression of a state’s performance. These impressions may factor into someone’s decision-making process as the choose where to invest.
However, we think it is more prudent to look beyond the aggregate score and get into the underlying measures. It is very difficult to have significant, immediate impact in moving an overall ranking, but as you analyze individual measures you begin to readily see how strategies can impact the performance. Therefore, we pulled a number of rankings apart to look at the measures. We chose only rankings, which provide specific information on how they obtained their measurement data and how states are compared.
We then organized the individual measures by the five categories that comprise the Fourth Economy Index – Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity – as we believe that attention must be paid to all five in order to have a truly sustainable economy. When Rhode Island’s performance on individual measures was then ranked against other states, a more nuanced picture appeared of the areas that Rhode Island should build off of and promote, and the areas that need to be improved.
Market Opportunity Networks
Our team also took a slightly different approach to the traditional cluster analysis. Of course the mere presence of a number of firms in a particular industry or group of industries does not necessarily make a cluster. These firms must know about each other and actually be working together. Furthermore, they must be supported by and interact with other academic, research, financial, and community institutions. Many of Rhode Island’s potential clusters are small or have serious gaps in commercial or other assets. A common challenge for Rhode Island is that even its largest clusters are small on the national and global scale.
Therefore, Fourth Economy recommended a model called Market Opportunity Networks that would seek to align industries around specific regional, national, or international market opportunities. Focusing on market opportunities could help prioritize which gaps to fill and build links between industries that can address the scale and size disadvantage in Rhode Island. Fourth Economy identified Advanced Marine Vehicles; Biotextiles, Implants and Devices; and Culture, Fitness, and Recreation as three possible Market Opportunity Networks.
Marketing Rhode Island
Marketing municipalities and the state of Rhode Island is vital for the economic growth of the state. Therefore, our team conducted a review of online economic development marketing efforts to analyze the effectiveness of existing resources and provide recommendations for improvements as they relate to economic development best practices and against other recommendations provided in the report.
Online media were analyzed on a graduated scale throughout the process. State media were reviewed on usability, technical and analytical factors; cluster media were reviewed on usability and technical factors; and local media were reviewed on usability factors. Such a detailed analysis gave us a unique perspective on the stories that communities were trying to tell and the assets that were of most importance to them. From this analysis, we were able to offer guidance on coordinating an approach across platforms, creating technical structures to optimize search capability, and how best to foster an innovative ecosystem through social media.
And in the end…
Our team advanced our thinking on sustainable economic development. It is not often that we find ourselves under such tight deadlines as this project demanded. Doing what we did in less than two months required strong partnerships and maximum stakeholder input. But more importantly, creating sustainable economies requires strong partnerships. After working with so many agencies, organizations, and businesses on this project, it was clear that with leadership and coordination, Rhode Island will be able to achieve many of its economic development goals. Of course that’s easier said than done, but creating the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development will provide an excellent platform for trying.
This project reaffirmed that there is no “one size fits all” approach to creating sustainable economies. Rhode Island is not Texas, and Texas is not North Dakota. Every state and every community has unique conditions, assets, and opportunities, and creating a unique strategy demands a unique process. The process for this project was flexible, changing throughout as we realized that, for instance, a traditional approach to cluster development would not make sense for a state like Rhode Island.
Finally, this project also helped us further operationalize the Fourth Economy Index. The Index has been an important piece of our effort to spread the vision of the fourth economy and we feel that its measures work well to identify the best modern economies. However, we know that communities are interested in tracking a whole host of national rankings. This project showed us how we can help communities find a balance tracking those rankings with making sure that they focus on specific indicators across a range of issues (namely, Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity). We are excited to continue working to make the Index a tool to help all communities create a sustainable economy.
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