Thursday, October 16, 2014

Manufacturing and Yes on 4

Recently the University of Rhode Island hosted representatives from many of Rhode Island’s top manufacturing companies to recognize National Manufacturing Day.  The range of products represented was truly amazing – nuclear-powered submarines to high-tech shoelaces.  I kid you not.  Equally impressive was the fact that these manufacturing companies are succeeding in the intensely competitive international marketplace.  Many people doubt that Rhode Island-based manufacturing can compete, especially compared to locations where labor costs are substantially less than here.  The fact is, however, that numerous manufacturing companies located in Rhode Island are globally competitive. 
I have visited many competitive manufacturing companies in Rhode Island – large and small. A common element to their success is Innovation: innovative products; innovations in efficiency and productivity; innovative marketing and customer service; Innovations in creating opportunities for the growth and development of their personnel.  The successful Rhode Island manufacturers I am familiar with are characterized by consistent (bordering on relentless) innovation in some or all of these areas.                     
So, if these companies can be globally competitive, why can we not create or attract more such manufacturers here? Why can we not assist our existing manufacturers in becoming even more successful, and therefore to expand?  Both strategies would produce more economic growth, more opportunities, and more good jobs in Rhode Island.  I think we can do this.
Of course, we are all aware of the structural difficulties associated with being in Rhode Island, and we must develop effective strategies to improve our competitive standing as a state.  While that challenging work is underway, the University of Rhode Island is vigorously pursuing multiple approaches to assist our existing manufacturing companies and to create new companies.  That is why we created the Business Engagement Center, brought the federal Manufacturing Extension Program into our Research Foundation and reorganized it as Polaris MEP, and also took on the administration and leadership of Rhode Island’s Small Business Development Center.
The University of Rhode Island is doing even more. Research drives innovation and stimulates the creation of new products, new services, and new companies.  The locus of much of this activity at URI is the College of Engineering. Research universities like URI not only produce the advanced, highly-skilled workforce so essential to economic prosperity, these institutions also produce new intellectual property and create new companies.  Consider this: graduates and faculty of the College of Engineering have founded 28 companies in Rhode Island, and another 17 in our New England neighbors.  Hundreds of companies, including practically all of Rhode Island’s leading manufacturing and technology companies employ graduates of the University of Rhode Island’s College of Engineering.
This is one of many reasons why approval of Question 4 on our November ballot is so critical to the future of Rhode Island. Modern, competitive facilities for education and research are essential to expanding and sustaining a globally competitive economy.  I am convinced that Rhode Island can compete – because we have so many great examples all around us – but only if we have the people and the facilities to drive innovation.  The Rhode Island economy may finally be gaining new momentum. Now is not the time to “take our foot off the gas”.  Vote Yes on 4.

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