Q: You are currently on a visit to the UK and heading to the city of Hull. What are you working on there?
A: We’re exploring a number of subjects while we’re in the UK. One of them is the offshore wind economy. We’re meeting with representatives of the Team Humber Alliance that are organising the Humber region for wind power-related purposes.
We met with them during one of our last visits. Since then we have issued a requirement for 400 megawatts of energy off the shores of Rhode Island, which would be a tenfold increase compared with the initial installation we did. We did five turbines in the water, now we’re doing 50 turbines, which will generate enough power to support the energy needs of half the households of Rhode Island. [Danish power company] Orsted has been chosen to do that work and has recently acquired our home-grown company, Deepwater Wind, which did the first installation. So we’re very involved with the wind economy; what has been helpful to us has been to understand how the surrounding communities have been able to organise and rally and absorb the benefits of the offshore [wind farm] economy.
We have been in dialogue for more than a year about the ways in which the Humber region has evolved, its economy and how we can learn from its experiences. We are likely to team up in the longer term as Rhode Island grows and develops its supply chains in the development of and importing of companies to supply the endeavour. We will probably work with some players in the Humber region to help us coordinate and guide the effort in Rhode Island. That’s going to be a long-term arrangement.
Q: What else has been going on in the way of FDI attraction in Rhode Island recently?
A: The governor was re-elected. We hit an all-time high number of jobs – 490,700. We achieved the highest reduction in unemployment in the US from 2014 to 2018 on an annual basis. In terms of international companies doing business in Rhode Island, we attracted a major new one. Infosys, an India-based IT company, agreed to create its US design hub in Rhode Island in co-operation with the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence – one of the most significant undertakings in the school's history. On the basis of that arrangement, Infosys pledged 500 new jobs to Providence and it has already opened a beautiful new design and innovation hub in the former location of our newspaper, the Providence Journal. It’s a major investment.
Q: At the national level, many of the Trump administration policies regarding trade and other international issues are controversial. Do you get many questions about it from people you meet with on overseas missions?
A: We do. We continue to do business in ways that advocate for Rhode Island’s interest. Our governor is the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, so she’s the leading Democratic governor from that perspective. We are forever working on policies that can lead the way. An important note is the opportunities zone legislation, which is a major new federal tax benefit for investors that are placing capital gains in projects or are operating businesses in high poverty zones. We are mindful of what is happening in Washington, but we’re using the tools as they become available and pursuing everything that we can.
Q: Do you think the opportunity zones framework is a good tool for bringing investment into places that need it?
A: I think it has significant potential. Our approach is to use it to the max. Whether it’s perfect policymaking is to be determined, I think there are frailties in the way it’s been framed. I’m the chair of the new organisation for state economic development leaders, we formed a group called the State Economic Development Executive Network. We’re addressing issues such as tariffs and trade and opportunity that we have in common, and best practices. Opportunity zones have been a big issue for us; we’re all implanting the new federal programme. And by virtue of that, Rhode Island is helping other states to comment on the regulations as the programme is being implemented. We’re working hard to get it into shape so that we can use it.