Raimondo's Innovation Institute is on the way
The establishment of an "Innovation Institute" was at the very top of the economic plan that Gina Raimondo detailed when she ran for governor in 2014, vowing to revive Rhode Island's sluggish economy.
In the third paragraph of her 10-page proposal, Raimondo wrote that fostering innovation "with a focus on our strengths" would be an important part of reinvigorating manufacturing in the state. And to foster such innovation, she pledged the creation of an institute.
"... a place where our world-class local colleges and universities can pair up with businesses and the private sector to generate amazing new ideas for innovative products and ways to manufacture them," said her campaign website.
On Monday, the word "innovation" was in the air. Raimondo announced the hiring of a chief innovation officer to improve government efficiency. Later in the day, she led talks between the state Commerce Commission and the I-195 Redevelopment Commission.
At the meeting, a consulting firm told officials that it regards the former 195 land as a place where researchers and big thinkers, including designers from the Rhode Island School of Design, might be able to work with businesses to develop valuable new products.
In fact, the consultants from HR&A Advisors Inc. have dubbed the area "The Providence Innovation and Design District."
Against that backdrop, it seemed like a good time to take the pulse on Raimondo's campaign pledge to create an Innovation Institute.
The fine print on Raimondo's campaign website was never that specific. Her website used simple language to define the Rhode Island Innovation Institute as "a central place for our colleges to come together with our private sector … ."
While the language was simple, the pledge itself — creating "a place" that fosters innovation, including "amazing new ideas," setting up a "research hub" that "attracts manufacturers from around the world" — was anything but.
A year into Raimondo's administration, it's clear she still has a ways to go toward fulfilling the promise. But things are happening.
The receipt of the consultants' report on creating an Innovation District is one step in the process. The report itself talks about nine other "action steps."
The development of an area, including portions of the 195 land, where colleges would work together on innovation with businesses would be one way of following through on the promise.
Another approach might involve a particular venture involving Boston development firm CV Properties and Wexford Science + Technology, a Baltimore-based firm. The two companies might partner with universities to create research and innovation hubs.
CV Properties and Wexford are negotiating with state leaders to buy five acres of the 195 land for a project where they have said they want Brown University, the University of Rhode Island, and the Cambridge Innovation Center to bring together academic researchers and entrepreneurs.
"Central to Wexford's plan is the notion of an innovation center," said Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. "That center might be operated by the Cambridge Innovation Center. The objectives would be the same either way and they would fulfill the points made in the campaign literature."
The tentative plan for the project envisions a completion of the land purchase by the end of 2016 and the start of construction in February of 2017, said Dyana Koelsch, a spokeswoman for the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission.
We rate this promise In the Works.
Gina Raimondo campaign, "Jobs and the Economy," 2014.
The Providence Journal, "Innovation at the city's doorstep," Dec. 6, 2015.
News release, Governor Gina Raimondo, "Raimondo Works to Spark Innovation Economy," Jan. 12, 2016.
ProvidenceJournal.com, "195 Development: a new focus on design," Jan. 12, 2016.
Joy Fox, spokeswoman for Gov. Gina Raimondo, interview Jan. 11, 2016.
Marie Aberger, spokeswoman for Gov. Gina Raimondo, interview and email, Jan. 12, 2016.
Dyana Koelsch, spokeswoman, I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, interview, Jan. 12, 2016.
Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, interview Jan. 12, 2016.