Conduct nationwide competition to solicit job creation proposals

Chafee will "Conduct a nationwide business plan competition (similar to a Request for Proposal (RFP) process) that solicits innovative job creation proposals from compelling businesses and entrepreneurs interested in establishing, relocating or expanding their business in Rhode Island."


Chafee for Governor, 10-point Economic Development Plan

Subjects: Economy, Jobs


Chafee proposed business competition that already existed

As part of his plan to jump-start the Rhode Island economy following the worst downturn since the Great Depression, gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee promised to set up a competition designed to get the best minds in the country interested in creating jobs in the Ocean State.

As it turns out, the Chafee administration didn't have to establish such a competition because it was already in existence.

The Rhode Island Business Plan Competition, an independent nonprofit organization, handed out its first awards in 2001, nine years before Chafee was elected governor. (It didn't give out awards for 2003-2005). The contest is not run by the state. It is supported by private businesses, investors, foundations, colleges and universities, public entities, and nonprofit organizations, according to its website.

Last year it gave out awards totaling $203,500 in cash and services -- such as legal and accounting services -- to seven finalists. Its 2015 competition is underway.

Traditionally, the applicants have been from in and around Rhode Island because one of the rules is that "all applicants must agree to establish substantial operations in Rhode Island in order to receive prizes as a finalist or winner."

When we asked Chafee's office about his pledge, spokeswoman Faye Zuckerman pointed us to the competition. When we asked why Chafee had promised to do something that was already being done, she said, "He learned about it after he was elected and was excited to give it more visibility via his involvement. He used the power of the office to promote and enhance it – not reinvent the wheel. He was involved to ensure that the competition's profile was improved and, therefore, it expanded."

The state has supported it through "sweat equity," she said, noting that one of the advisors is Katharine Flynn, director of corporate and foundation relations at the University of Rhode Island Foundation.

Although the governor has supported the contest by appearing each year when the awards are handed out, financial support for the contest has dwindled to nothing since Chafee took over, said Peter Lowy, executive director of the competition.

The state Economic Development Corporation (now known as the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation) contributed $5,000 each year for the 2006 to 2009 contests. For the competition that ended in the spring of 2010, the amount jumped to $35,000. It dropped to $10,000 for the competition that began in the fall of 2010, when Chafee was still a candidate.

During the governor's first year in office, EDC contributed $10,000. Then the amount declined to $5,000 for 2013, then to nothing for 2014. It is zero for the current contest.  

Some of that reduced support may be fallout from the controversy over the state's massive and ill-fated investment in the now-bankrupt 38 Studios, said Lowy.

"As you know, state dollars are very tight, and the governor works closely with the General Assembly on how the money is best allocated," Zuckerman said in an email.

"Governor Chafee has been supportive in that he has joined us several times in our awards ceremonies, lending his name in support," said Lowy. "When it comes to the idea of the competition, he certainly has been supportive of us in that regard."

The fact that Chafee pledged to create something that was already in existence makes this an odd promise to rate. We appreciate that there was no need to duplicate an established competition, but he promised to set up a state-run contest, which wasn't done.

On the other hand, it IS being done, just by someone else.

For that reason, we rate this a Promise Stalled.


Emails, Faye Zuckerman, spokeswoman, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Dec. 29-31, 2014

Interview, Peter Lowy, executive director, Rhode Island Business Plan Competition, Dec. 31, 2014, "Rhode Island Business Plan Competition 2015," accessed Dec. 31, 2014