1 - Right off the bat, it's clear the plan is to implement massive changes right away, particularly with regard to the new director to be drawn from a national search. That opens the door to new blood, new thinking and new possibilities for our economy. But the changes could also be for the worse. A lot depends on the new director.
2 - The report also emphasizes the need to coordinate the various state-level econ-dev units. Last year, the Economic Policy Council (EPC) - which developed strategy - was merged with the EDC - which was supposed to manage the implementation. The current report recommends abolishing EPC altogether to put strategy and implementation into the same agency. That leave only the Division of Statewide Planning to coordinate. Statewide Planning manages the state's comprehensive plan of which econ-dev is a part.
Our old pal Larry Quick referred to EPC/EDC/Statewide Planning as "the three-headed monster" and tried, in vain, to bring the three groups together. Now, it seems, the idea has taken hold. In reading between the lines, I believe the current recommendation implies that the EDC will consult with Statewide Planning, but deliver the econ-dev portion of the comprehensive plan as a fait accompli. (NB: Speculation on my part!)
3 - The report cites a strong perception (accurate or not) that EDC is "focused on landing the "big fish" from out of state" at the expense of helping existing businesses. It recommends re-focusing EDC entirely on supporting and growing existing and emergent businesses. Now, it should be noted that the EDC program Every Company Counts (ECC) focuses on micro and emerging businesses. Perhaps it is the very EDC/ECC distinction that creates the perception. Regardless of truth or fiction, emerging businesses don't see EDC as in their corner. (Chamber of Commerce, you, too.)
4 - The advisory panel recommends that EDC recognize and support industry sector support groups, specifically calling out Providence Geeks as an example. EDC and Providence Geeks partnered to create RI Nexus. What would the creative sector equivalent look like?
1 - Right off the bat, it's clear the plan is to implement massive changes right away. Yes, that's #1 in Improvements, but it's also #1 in Problems. Who is going to be on the search committee? What will the job description say? What qualities will most impress them? Unless I miss the mark badly, the advisory panel is basically traditional econ-dev thinkers. The report shows a distinct lack of imagination and, sometimes, a bit of obliviousness as to the realities of the RI economy. Long story short: the new board and new director could be stuck just as deeply in the rut as their predecessors.
2 - In the 17-page report, the notion of public education is mentioned exactly once. An "underperfoming secondary education system" is listed as one of three "aggravating factors" behind our poor economic results. I really think that understates the problem. Much later in the report, they suggest the need to "provide employment opportunities for all levels of Rhode Island's population in the near term." Clearly, there's a recognition that there are gaps in the educational level of Rhode Islanders. But, again, they don't seem to take this issue very seriously. They do so at their peril.
3 - The advisory panel does not seem to believe or understand that Rhode Island hosts a healthy and growing creative sector (arts, culture, design, entertainment). You know, that whole Creative Capital whatnot. You'd think they'd have read a newspaper or something...
4 - The report demonstrates a continuing obsession with "job creation" to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Self-employment does not seem to play a role in their thinking, even though current estimates in New York indicate that 20% of workers are freelance/self-employed. Combine our unemployment rate (white collar layoffs) with our creative sector, and we could easily have that high a percentage. Of course, you'd also have to be looking for that kind of data, which NYC does. It took me about two years to get the phrase "1099 economy" into the lexicon of the geek sector. The advisory panel may take longer, yet.
5 - Another data point that shows how the advisory panel is out of touch with the real world is their suggestion that, if the EDC became relevant to growth sectors, it could "indirectly create a team of potential "economic development ambassadors." Which is to say there are no such ambassadors currently. If the advisory panel had more boots on the ground, they would know how absolutely passionate, articulate and devoted the creative sector is about building the greater Providence region. The woman who's running the Pecha Kucha events moved from Portland, OR. When she goes back, she puts "Move to Providence" stickers everywhere.
I remain cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of a newly imagined EDC. If they take this report as a start, and THEN GATHER A MUCH BROADER SET OF INPUT, they'll have a lot more buy-in from the very sectors they seek to support - micro- and emerging enterprises.