Gov. Raimondo visits Block Island
Gov. Gina Raimondo, during a stopover at the offices of The Block Island Times on Thursday, Aug. 25, said that while the state has made economic progress in the past 18 months, it is still a long road toward full economic recovery.
“There’s a lot to do,” Raimondo told The Times. “The day I was elected we had the highest unemployment rate in America.” According to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training website, the state’s unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent in Nov. of 2014, when Raimondo was elected, to 5.5 percent in July of 2016.
“We have had a tough slog the past 15 years,” added Raimondo. “I definitely see momentum, but we have to stay at it. We need high wage, high skill jobs” in Rhode Island. “The economy is my only priority,” she said. “We need to pound away at making it cheaper to do business in Rhode Island.”
To that end, Raimondo said she “pushed through the legislature a big reduction in unemployment insurance taxes” for small and large businesses. “We’ve got to keep doing more of that,” she said.
The unemployment insurance tax reductions that Raimondo referenced are part of legislation included in the state’s budget that lawmakers approved in June of 2016. Despite that approval, Raimondo was unable to garner support for a proposed 50-cent hike in the state’s minimum hourly wage, from $9.60 to $10.10, something she has advocated for since taking office.
““My goal — if I could do one thing as governor — is to raise the average income level in Rhode Island,” said Raimondo. “When I took office we raised the minimum wage from $9.00 to $9.60. But I am in favor of putting it up to $10.10.”
She also noted that the way to bounce back from the loss of manufacturing jobs is to bring high-skill, high-paying jobs to the state. “Boston has tapped into more innovation based jobs — they have a red hot economy,” she said. “So, that’s what we’re trying to do. General Electric Digital announced a couple of months ago that they’re putting a few hundred jobs in Providence. The average starting salary of those jobs is $100,000.”
Raimondo said that Deepwater Wind’s construction of the Block Island Wind Farm has created jobs at the Port of Providence and Quonset Point. In constructing the wind farm, Deepwater Wind partnered with National Grid for the transmission cable, and with General Electric, who fabricated the component parts of the wind turbine towers.
“Rhode Island is very good at fabricating composites. The long turbine blades are made out of composite material,” said Raimondo. “Here’s the bottom line: the industry is developing — we’re first. I think over time there will be a lot of benefits to us.”
Raimondo said that Massachusetts has announced that “they’re going to start procuring a lot of wind energy. Same thing with New York. It’s good for the locals — getting rid of diesel” on Block Island. “I think over time that it’s going to create a lot of jobs. So, I’m promoting it. I’m pushing it.”
The next step with the wind farm is “bringing some of the suppliers to Rhode Island,” said Raimondo. “I think it’s excellent for our economy. I’ve been a supporter from the beginning. Rhode Island is the leader. It’s the only offshore wind farm in North America.”
On the subject of tourism, Raimondo said that the state has done quite well this summer. “We just started the new digital ad campaign a month or so ago,” she said, noting that the ads are focusing on attracting people from states like New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In the wake of the botched tourism campaign, Raimondo hired a new chief marketing officer, Lara Salamano, after the previous one was let go.
Raimondo noted that “Hotel room revenue for this year, through June, is up seven percent in Rhode Island versus last year. That compares to being up three percent in New England. So, that’s a good thing.”
Raimondo said her family spent summer vacation visiting Newport, Narragansett and Block Island. “Why would you ever leave Rhode Island during the summer?” she said.
As for the Mohegan Bluffs stairway, Raimondo said she was looking forward to seeing what’s been done to address the dangerous section beneath the stairs. When she visited the island a year ago, Raimondo said she would instruct the Department of Environmental Management to repair the treacherous, steep and rocky descent to the beach.
After visiting the bluffs, Raimondo told The Times that, “Like many Rhode Islanders and visitors to our state, my family enjoys spending time on Block Island and taking in the breathtaking views at Mohegan Bluffs. As you know, I visited last year and saw the bluffs’ condition and immediately called on my administration to take action. I applaud the Department of Environmental Management, Coastal Resources Management Council, and the Town of New Shoreham for working cooperatively and swiftly under my direction to restore the stairway and platform so people can safely enjoy this special place for years to come. It’s beautiful!”