This is a guest post by Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee detailing everything being done to improve the business climate in the Ocean State.
During my campaign for Lieutenant Governor in 2014, I noticed the headline that Rhode Island had received an “F” on Thumbtack.com’s annual Small Business Friendliness Survey, one of many surveys on which the state fares poorly.
I wanted to know how the state could earn an “A” instead of an “F” on the national survey, so I reached out to Thumbtack to learn more about what Rhode Island is doing wrong, and what other states are doing right. Thumbtack Chief Economist Jon Lieber said we were the first state to tap the startup to directly engage local independent business owners to improve policy. In other words, Rhode Island stood out from other poorly-ranked states in its willingness to directly address survey respondents’ concerns.
Together, my office and the California-based startup convened a group of Rhode Island businesses—from web design to custom building to a family-owned cable provider – along with top state policymakers and municipal leaders. At an “Advance RI” roundtable in May, we shared stories of how the state treats small businesses and exchanged ideas on ways to better support them. We asked questions and, most important, listened to a lot of frank feedback.
That conversation was one of many across state government over the past year that sparked efforts to fix the problems that have long plagued our business community. Since then, under Governor Gina M. Raimondo’s leadership, Rhode Island has taken significant steps toward becoming a business-friendly state:
- The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation launched a Business Navigation Center to link small businesses to resources, supports, and a range of incentives and credits, many of them new. It also created the Statewide Action Team, or STAT, a coordinated network of 27 state agencies that connects businesses to the appropriate state department and troubleshoots the most urgent of problems.
- The Department of Business Regulation is streamlining the permitting process, with the aim to get the average wait time down to mere days, rather than weeks. Rhode Island is rolling out an e-permitting program at the state level and in 10 cities and towns that modernizes cumbersome permitting systems.
- To address high energy costs that have left Rhode Island businesses at a competitive disadvantage, Rhode Island eliminated the 7 percent sales tax on commercial energy. That amounts to $24 million in savings for businesses across the state in the first year alone.
- As Lieutenant Governor, I intervened before the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission to eliminate a so-called “billing adjustment” that saddled companies with hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unexpected charges after switching to a competitive electricity provider.
- Together with the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers I launched the website Empower RI, a valuable tool that helps small businesses shop for the best electricity prices.
We know this is only a beginning – a burdensome regulatory state took years to build and it will not be dismantled overnight.
But after years stuck in neutral, Rhode Island is finally moving ahead. The state continues to work to remove the immediate hurdles and hitches faced by all small businesses and, even more important, make the longer-term systemic changes that will turn Rhode Island’s “F” into the “A” our business community deserves.
Daniel J. McKee is Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island.