Chafee senior staffer working toward jobs, growth in four districts
In his plan for the first 100 days of his administration, Lincoln Chafee pledged to "take the lead in driving growth in Rhode Island."
Specifically, he proposed a multi-point effort that involved naming a senior staffer to coordinate the agencies working on development and to focus on development in four areas: the Knowledge District in Providence, the Station District near T.F. Green Airport, Quonset Point Industrial Park, and an area in Newport near the Navy base.
On the first point, Chafee has appointed Patrick Rogers, his chief of staff and executive counsel, to oversee economic development.
Rogers said he attends twice-weekly meetings between the governor and state Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Keith Stokes and is involved with the EDC in planning. The EDC also has a special subcommittee just to deal with the Knowledge District, the 6.4 acres in the Jewelry District being made available by the demolition of the an old stretch of Route 195.
Rogers, Chafee, Stokes, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and officials from the University of Rhode Island and Brown University also traveled to Houston's Texas Medical Center as part of an effort to learn how other cities have "used their Knowledge Districts to be a driver for growth and job creation." A second trip with a larger group, involving government and institutional leaders, is planned for Baltimore's Maryland Medical Center this month.
Chafee's office is also working with Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio on legislation that would create "a supercharged, one stop-shopping commission . . . infused with both state and municipal authority and would be populated by city-state partners" with the power to develop the land without the regulatory red tape that typically comes which such development.
"He wants this to be a semi-autonomous committee, held out to developers and to institutions as a committee where you get your project approved. You don't have to go to the city of Providence, to the DOT, or multiple other commissions," said Rogers. "It would be a unified one-stop streamlined commission that would have wide authority that would otherwise be resident in multiple entities."
It's not clear that will happen. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has objected to the proposal unless any organization that develops the land is required to pay taxes or make a payment to the city in lieu of taxes.
As for spurring development at the Station District at T.F. Green Airport -- the new commuter rail link to the airport -- Rogers said the governor has met with the congressional delegation and others to try to tap into some of the federal transportation money recently rejected by Florida, hoping to get it redirected to infrastructure projects in that district.
At the Quonset Point Industrial Park, Rogers and Stokes met April 1 with officials of Electric Boat to talk about job growth. Chafee is scheduled to travel to the company's Groton shipyard April 26 to see how Rhode Island can help the company grow its Rhode Island operation.
Chafee also met April 19 with officials of Toray Plastics -- a major Quonset employer -- to talk about the company's energy needs and future plans. And he plans to meet next week with Steven King, managing director of the Quonset Development Corporation, to find out what is needed to help "one of Rhode Island's core assets," said Rogers.
Chafee also wants to develop the 30 acres near the Newport-Pell Bridge and the Newport Naval Base, but that is "less further along than what he has done with the Knowledge District, the Station District and Quonset," Rogers said.
Chafee didn"t promise to complete any specific project in his first 100 days, only to "take the lead in driving growth” and to appoint someone to coordinate developments. He has fulfilled the first part and taken some steps toward the second.
But so far, there"s no evidence that what"s being done will yield any new jobs or new development in the four areas he has cited.
So for now, we rate this In The Works.