Q: How does Rhode Island’s history, and your family’s history within that, tie into your drive to revive people’s livelihoods in the state’s manufacturing sector?
A: Rhode Island has been a leader in manufacturing for a very long time. The US's industrial revolution started in Rhode Island, in the city of Pawtucket. And when I was a child, the parents of nearly everybody I knew worked in a manufacturing facility.
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A lot of people made jewellery; we were the jewellery manufacturing capital of the world. My father worked his whole career at the Bulova watch factory. There were more than 1000 people working there at the time he was there – just one example of our rich and successful history of making things.
Q: What are some of the initiatives you have launched to fuel the growth of new manufacturing jobs?
A: Because we have such strong history in manufacturing, and we still have many top-notch advanced manufacturers creating good jobs, I want to support manufacturers as much as possible. So we are doing a few things.
First of all, we are planning to make a big investment in the state’s career and technical schools that is focused on manufacturing, so we can ensure young people have the skills they need [to work] for manufacturers.
We’re also making it easier for manufacturers of all sizes to invest in equipment and in job training, so we are writing tax credits enabling them to buy equipment, because advanced manufacturing is all about innovation – so a lot of equipment – and skills. They also need the skilled workforce, so we are continuing to invest in skills and helping manufacturers train people.
Q: How are you leading policy changes in education and why is this so important for Rhode Island’s economic development?
A: We’ve made a huge commitment to training programmes geared at manufacturers. Some are for high school students, so for example we have a programme where we enable manufacturers to partner with high schools, and we set up specific career and technical programmes in the schools.
For example, one of our biggest manufacturers here is General Dynamic Electric Boat. It makes very sophisticated submarines for the military, so we set up several welding programmes – it hires a lot of welders – in our high schools, so that we can produce enough welders for Electric Boat, straight out of high school.
We also have another programme that is very successful, and manufacturers love it, called the Real Jobs Rhode Island programme. This is for people who are mid-career: job training that helps them to acquire the skills they need to go into manufacturing.
Q: What role does international business have in your growth strategy, and how valuable is the contribution of international companies to the state’s economy?
A: It is extremely valuable. Rhode Island is a great place to invest and to do business, and we want to be as open as possible to international investors and international companies. We recently announced that a major British tea company, Finlays, is opening a new facility in Rhode Island.
The University of Rhode Island, our flagship university, has phenomenal science programmes mixed with foreign languages, and manufacturers love that programme because they want people to speak another language but also have technical and science skills. We’re always encouraging international companies to set up shop here, invest here, work with our local universities, and create jobs here.