Rhode Island has a vibrant arts community, and that exceptional talent pool begins with our young people. In order to support that community and help it to grow in future generations, I have hosted a Congressional District High School Art Competition each of the 14 years I have served in Congress. All high school students in the district are eligible to compete, with the winner having the honor of having his or her artwork hang in the U.S. Capitol for one year.
This year, we received a record number of entries, highlighting the exceptional work of art students and art teachers across the state. I am amazed each year by the quality and originality of the student submissions, and this year’s contestants continued that tradition of excellence.
I must admit that my personal artistic ability is nonexistent. I relied on the expertise of the Wickford Art Association to evaluate the artwork, which came in the categories of paintings, drawings, collages, prints, mixed media, computer-generated art and photography. I am so grateful to the Wickford Art Association for coming on board as judges, and their enthusiasm really set the tone for this year’s competition. I am also thankful to the Warwick Mall for allowing us to showcase the artwork there. It was great to see all of the student creations on display, and I had the chance to meet many of the artists personally during the awards ceremony. Ultimately, it was Eleni Giannopoulos from Exeter/West Greenwich High School who took top honors. In their remarks, the judges said of Eleni’s drawing, “this piece created with pencil stood out to all three jurors as having been masterfully executed.” Rounding out the top four finishers were Christina Abramson of Toll Gate High School in second place, Devan Phillips of North Kingstown High School in third place and Annette Deion of Cranston High School West in fourth place.
Congratulations to all of the participants, the winners and especially to Eleni! I cannot wait to see your artwork again, hanging in its place of honor in the Capitol.
It doesn’t matter how many times I attend, the annual Imagine Walk with the Autism Project of Rhode Island is always a wonderful event. Regardless of the forecast – which this year was less than perfect – thousands of Rhode Islanders come out year after year to support friends, family and strangers who face autism spectrum disorders.
The Autism Project is a tremendous resource for children and families facing an autism diagnosis. They are a clearinghouse for community supports and resources, and the programs they offer in-house round out the picture as the go-to organization for Rhode Islanders affected by this disease. Thank you to Joanne Quinn and the entire Autism Project team for your leadership.
As a member of the Congressional Coalition for Autism Research and Education (CARE), and the proud uncle of a boy with autism, I understand many of the unique challenges this condition presents. I am also acutely aware of the opportunities we can create with a strong commitment to improved research, proper education, and the correct treatments and interventions. In 2011, I cosponsored and supported enactment of the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act. The Reauthorization continued the success of the CAA by authorizing funding at CDC, HRSA, and NIH for three additional years. More recently, I supported at least $32 billion in funding for NIH in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The FY14 Consolidated Appropriations Act funded the NIH at $29.9 billion, $1 billion above 2013 levels. While this increase was a positive development made possible by the partial repeal of sequestration under the Budget Act, I still promote full repeal of sequestration and at least a $2 billion additional increase at NIH – funds that will support autism research and programming.
But the Imagine Walk is about more than just getting bills passed in Congress. It is a day to celebrate and declare our continued promise of a better quality of life and a better future for our children living with autism, as well as our families who are caring for them. It is a great day in Rhode Island, and I am so proud to be a part of it.
(Photo courtesy of Stacey Doyle)
My RI Food Week initiative in February was an eye-opening experience. I knew of many incredible food-related businesses in our state, and the crucial role they play in Ocean State tourism, but that was just scratching the surface. Once I connected with leaders in our state’s food economy, I got a better understanding of how many pieces there are in this puzzle, and just how significant they could be for our future.
One important piece of that puzzle is David Dadekian at eat drink RI.
David’s involvement in the food culture has many layers. He is a food photographer, handles public relations for Blackbird Farm in Smithfield and founded the eat drink RI website that boosts business for countless other restaurants, producers, farmers and more. He is outreach chair of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, is a private chef and cooking instructor, and recently won a $300,000 Innovation Fellows grant to help him start a food hub. In each of these capacities, David is a champion of Rhode Island’s food economy. For him, it’s not about competition. He would much rather build up his colleagues in the industry, because he lives the philosophy that when one person succeeds, so can many others. That is especially true as we work to rebrand Rhode Island as a Culinary Valley, and I am grateful to David for all he does to support food businesses of all sizes.
Not surprisingly, that support extends to the mobile food trend that has taken Rhode Island by storm. Food trucks are no longer just for fast food, but feature world-class chefs and diverse menu items made with locally-sourced ingredients. So many of those premiere mobile kitchens were on display at Truck Stop: A Festival of Street Eats, an event that David coordinated as part of the eat drink RI Festival weekend. Even better, this event benefitted the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, giving diners the opportunity to not only try some of our state’s excellent food trucks but also to support a very worthy cause. For a full list of participating Food Trucks and links to their website, visit the Food Bank’s event page.
David has already carved out a well-deserved reputation as somebody who knows good food and good business, and the Truck Stop just proved that he will continue to do great – and delicious – things in Rhode Island.
Rapidly Changing Business
I’ve been writing and talking about jobs quite a bit lately, and it seems as though that is often synonymous with writing and talking about Quonset Point. Quonset means jobs for Rhode Island; it means opportunity and progress. I cannot say enough about the stellar work being done by the Quonset Development Corporation. They do everything in their power to attract new business and maintain positive working relationships with existing tenants, and so often, good news stories in Rhode Island are coming out of that vibrant economic slice of North Kingstown.
Add Rapid Prep to the list.
A Rhode Island-based supplier of industrial sandblasting equipment, Rapid Prep started in 2006 and has offices in California, Virginia and Washington. They work closely with other industries nearby, and lease and sell equipment for the marine and shipyard industries, municipalities, infrastructure projects and fuel and water tanks.
I was especially impressed to learn that the company, which carries 10 different lines of equipment and more than 100 pieces, uses only American-made machinery. Rapid Prep doesn’t just espouse a buy American ideal – they live it. Yes, they want local companies to purchase surface preparation equipment through Rapid Prep, but they are also willing to make that same investment. For Rapid Prep, buying local is the best business practice. I agree, and I congratulate them and all of their employees on setting a great example for Quonset and for businesses across our state.
Company with a Conscience
Located in East Providence, ProThera Biologics was founded in 2001 by Brown University professors Dr. Yow-Pin Lim and Dr. Douglas Hixson. At the time, Drs. Lim and Hixson discovered a tool for detecting proteins while making monoclonal antibodies. This led them to further research with inter-alpha inhibitors. Their ultimate goal is to address life-threatening illnesses, focusing in particular on sepsis and cancer. In addition, recent studies have shifted focus to bioweapons issues with hopes of developing technology that’s effective against anthrax and other biological threats.
Medical advancements can be used in warfare just as easily as they can in the treatment of patients – a fact not lost on Lim and Hixson. I am no doctor, but I do know a thing or two about computer viruses. As co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, I have been calling for improved cyber defenses for many years. My fear is that a cyber attack could hit us where it hurts the most: crippling infrastructure, shutting down water utilities or cutting power to the electric grid. These types of cyber attacks would have significant economic consequences, and could threaten our health and safety as well.
The same can be said for biological attacks.
Lim and Hixson would rather act now than wait for a worst-case scenario. ProThera researches biological agents like avian and swine flu and develops counteragents. ProThera Biologics research is helping to advance our understanding of life-threatening diseases, while determining the best practices to prevent and treat these diseases. Their desire to look for the cures that could save millions of people and revolutionize medicine conveys ProThera as a company with a conscience.
Top Job is Jobs
Jobs and the economy are, as always, my top priority for Rhode Island and our country. I know that the best way to ensure our long term economic health is to get people back to work and help them stay there. And thankfully, Rhode Island has the hard work and support of groups like the New England Council who are pursuing that same priority.
I was fortunate to meet with members of the New England Council in order to discuss jobs and related issues, like the need to extend unemployment insurance, end sequestration and reform our nation’s tax code. It is vital that tax reform encourage economic growth, support working families, and strengthen the middle class. I will continue to support provisions that advance those objectives, and produce a fairer tax code for all Americans.
In addition to my continued effort to achieve budgetary and economic progress, I have also reintroduced two pieces of legislation to help businesses and consumers in our communities – legislation of interest to my friends at the Council. The first, which I have worked on with Senator Merkley (D-Oregon), is called The Rebuilding Equity Act. It will give underwater homeowners, whose loans are guaranteed by Fannie or Freddie, the ability to refinance into shorter, lower interest rate mortgages. This will give them an opportunity to more quickly restore equity in their home by increasing refinancing options available to them. The second, known as the Veterans Homebuyer Accessibility Act, will aid our troops’ transition back into their communities. The bill will provide up to an $8,000 tax credit for veterans to buy their first home, and an additional $8,000 to make accessibility modifications. This will make it easier for disabled veterans, who have served with such distinction and sacrificed so much, to make the necessary adaptive modifications to move around comfortably in their homes.
While budget policy and tax initiatives are clearly important, we will only achieve long-term economic prosperity if we invest in a 21st Century Workforce. In conversations with business owners across Rhode Island, I hear too often that even when they have job openings, they are unable to find qualified workers to fill them. This skills gap is holding back our economy and depressing wages for all workers. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I am working with my colleagues in both parties to increase support for CTE at the state and federal levels. Alongside my Republican Co-Chair, Rep. GT Thompson of Pennsylvania, we are helping to challenge the definition of “career-and-college-ready” to reflect the needs of the 21st Century Workforce.
It was great to have the opportunity to discuss my work and my goals with the New England Council, because their feedback is essential. They represent businesses, academic and health institutions, as well as public and private organizations that promote economic growth. They know the need for jobs and the need for growth because they live it every day, and I firmly believe that together, we can put Rhode Island back on track.
Breaking Down Barriers
I can remember making the decision on which college I wanted to attend. I applied to Providence College and Rhode Island College, and I was fortunate enough to be accepted to both. The choice was largely made for me, though, because Providence just did not have the necessary infrastructure to accommodate a student like me. This was 10 years before passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and I am pleased that physical barriers are no longer creating challenges to the extent they once were.
However, we still face roadblocks to full integration, and we must take every opportunity to surmount them.
Listening to the members of the Work Opportunities Unlimited Job Club reminded me of the barriers that many people with disabilities still face in their search for employment. This club is made up of Rhode Islanders who have a mental or physical disability that hinders their progress in finding the right job. The club meets every Thursday to review their victories and defeats – jobs and experience gained or challenges that still endure. It was my pleasure to join the club during their last meeting to hear their stories of success and of barriers that remain.
It is very important that we have people and programs in the community that help others train for and acquire employment. I know all too well how difficult it can be to find the right job. However, we can all continue to change cultural perceptions and educate employers on the reasonable and necessary accommodations we may need to be effective and productive members in the workplace. We also need to keep in mind that Rhode Island is still facing a tough job market and, as many Rhode Islanders know, it is not only people with disabilities that are having trouble finding work.
The wonderful people I met at the job club are willing, eager and capable of working. They are enthusiastic, and shared with me their desire to be a valued member of a team. This is why I believe programs like Work Opportunities Unlimited are truly valuable. This group is bringing to light the fact that people with disabilities can make not just good, but excellent employees. Their efforts to eradicate stigma and stereotypes will go a long way in helping to knock down the psychological barriers that people with disabilities still face.
Starts with a Smile
Good dental care is essential to overall health and wellness, and yet many struggling families are deterred by the high cost of treatment. Rhode Island Mission of Mercy identified that need and filled it, and I am proud to support a program that last year alone provided more than $525,000 worth of free care to more than 900 Rhode Islanders.
That’s an incredible figure. But the dental and medical professionals involved with this event aren’t satisfied just yet. This year, they hope to provide more than 1,000 people with free dental care. Procedures are as simple as cleanings or as complex as tooth extractions and fillings. Some of the work is extensive, and some of the patients have not been to a dentist in many years. They feel anxious and, unfortunately, sometimes ashamed that they are in this situation.
When they meet the volunteers, that apprehension fades away.
I can’t think of an event that puts the Rhode Island spirit on display more than the Rhode Island Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic. Scheduled this year for May 31 and June 1, the clinic brings together dental and medical professionals willing to donate their time and talents, and countless other volunteers who register recipients and try to put them at ease. Each year, the line begins to form in the middle of the night. Rhode Islanders camp out at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Lincoln campus for the opportunity to receive dental care. The crowd speaks to the tremendous need, and I cannot say thank you enough to all of the generous men and women who donate their time and talent in order for the clinic to be successful, including Crossroads RI President Anne Nolan, Delta Dental Vice President Kathryn Shanley, CCRI Dental Health Programs Chair Kathleen Gazzola, Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation (RIOHF) Vice President Dr. Deborah Fuller and Blue Cross Blue Shield Executive Vice President Michele Lederberg. Most of all, I want to thank RIOHF Founder and RI Mission of Mercy President Dr. Jeffrey Dodge. Without these incredible people, the clinic would not be possible.
As Dr. Dodge and Lt. Governor Liz Roberts said at the kickoff event, they hope someday the clinic is no longer needed.
But until then, I for one am very grateful that it is here.
One year ago, the space in the Palisades Mill Complex was empty – just a concrete floor with a makeshift podium, from which Doctors Neal Fine and David Kring announced that they planned to transform the space and bring a new business to Rhode Island.
They weren’t kidding.
Bright and airy with a wood-beam ceiling, the space is now a beautiful, modern office filled with workstations for the staff of engineers. I was struck by how young the staff looked, and was pleased to find out that in 2013, Navatek hired more University of Rhode Island engineering graduates than any other company in the state. That’s thanks in large part to their internship program run through URI – a collaboration I would love to see more of in the Ocean State. Navatek invested in Rhode Island by building their office here, and took that commitment a step further by facilitating the training of many Rhode Island students. These young people are getting a hands-on education, and based on the current line-up of Navatek employees, the program has yielded very successful results. Navatek’s investment in education encourages URI graduates to pursue local employment opportunities, ensuring that we don’t lose promising young talent to neighboring states.
Navatek Ltd. is based in Hawaii, but their Rhode Island office is an exciting operation that is on the cutting edge of technology. Navatek handles quite a bit of defense work, and they are truly revolutionizing marine operations, making it safer and less physically taxing for individuals working on high-speed rescue missions. On the energy side, Navatek works on wind power, and a turbine blade on display in their lobby serves as a reminder of their constant drive to improve technology for alternative energy. Neal and David built a wind tunnel in the Mill to do just that, and they talk about it like kids on a playground. They are so passionate about their work, and are excited about the prospects of improving efficiency and increasing energy production for wind turbines.
All of that is happening right here in Rhode Island, utilizing homegrown talent. Watching Navatek’s growth has been exciting already, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the future.
Mouse Politics and More
Reading Week is one of my favorite times of the school year. Winter is melting away, kids can enjoy outdoor recess and teachers are helping their students to tackle all new material in the final months before summer. The tentative process of making new friends is a distant memory, and classmates come into the classroom each day ready to take on new challenges, together and independently. The team spirit was on full display when I paid a visit to Peace Dale Elementary School to participate in Reading Week. Principal Susan Martin introduced me to a wonderful group of second graders, all of whom were eager to ask questions about my life and career and to find out what book I had brought along to share. One of my favorites, which I always keep close at hand for visits to local schools, is “House Mouse, Senate Mouse” by Cheryl Shaw Barnes. The book explains how Congress works, and the legislation being debated by the elected mice is what to declare as the official cheese of the United States of America. It’s a funny book with great illustrations, and I so appreciated the opportunity to tell some of my youngest constituents about what I get to do in Washington. Even if the decisions aren’t always as simple as cheese.
General Motors, a major multinational corporation that produces vehicles in more than 35 countries, has approximately 18,500 suppliers around the world. Each year, they recognize about 1 percent of those suppliers as the cream of the crop. Their Supplier of the Year Awards are given, in fact, to only 83 of those 18,500 companies. Fewer than 30 of them are American companies.
And one of them is from Rhode Island.
Hope Valley Industries is a Rhode Island business, but they are something of a well-kept secret. Tucked into a residential area in North Kingstown, Hope Valley Industries manufactures and distributes all-weather automotive accessories, and floor mats in particular. It is always great to hear about products being manufactured right in Rhode Island, and seeing is believing at Hope Valley. They have an exceptional operation with more than 250 employees and they are growing at a rapid pace. In the last six months alone, Hope Valley has brought on 100 people, and that is just the beginning. They are considering physical expansion and more new hires, and continue to explore programs that will improve the lives of their employees. President Tom Melucci and CFO Mark Leach are interested in investing in employee training and education opportunities, and it appears to come from a genuine concern for their employees. Walking through the showroom, Tom stops regularly to say hello to the workers or ask how their day is going. It is refreshing, and when you pair that with the reputation Hope Valley has carved out in the automotive industry, it is certainly an exciting company to watch.
I know I will be keeping tabs on them.
Our schedule for the South County Community Day was filled to the brim, so I was thrilled that we could make time for a lunch break at the South Kingstown Senior Center. If you’ve never been there, the center is really a beautiful facility, and they have many wonderful resources, including the Senior Health Insurance Program and social service case workers. Their activities calendar is even more packed than mine – with classes for everything from tai chi and French to yoga and computers. It was great to share a meal with seniors from the area – especially my former fourth grade teacher Mrs. Stone – and talk about the issues that are important to them. I gave a brief overview of some of the things I have been working on, and best of all, my staff and I were able to connect with a few constituents who needed our help on casework issues. My district office is dedicated largely to constituent casework, so if you or someone you know needs help with a federal agency, please do not hesitate to call 401-732-9400. That is what we’re here for!
As co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, improving our defenses against cyber attack and protecting both critical infrastructure and consumer interests has been a priority of mine for years. We are fortunate in Rhode Island to have many leaders who also see that we have reached a critical crossroads. Cybersecurity can no longer be pushed aside, and I am so grateful that my colleague in the Senate, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, has been so supportive of efforts to put cybersecurity at the forefront of public discussion and policy action.
Senator Whitehouse coordinated a roundtable with the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, and it was a very productive conversation.
Cyberspace as a domain is unique due to its potential for truly cascading risks, both within and between sectors of our economy. Compromise of a system or a limited number of systems can take down a network, be it banking or the power grid, with a speed and pervasiveness that is totally disproportionate to the difficulty and scope of the attack itself. At a national level, and certainly in my work on the national security committees, we look at attacks and attack campaigns from any number of state and non-state actors. We face threats not only from peer or near-peer nations bent on destruction or on economic advantage, but also from criminal groups that possess state-level capabilities and have immense skills, great financial incentive, and in many cases legal havens that afford them almost complete sanctuary.
Some of the challenges we face are political – how to persuade the nations harboring and orchestrating these attacks that they are no longer in their best interest. Some of the challenges are technical – finding the key technological enablers to next-generation cyber defenses. Some are organizational – finding the ways to work together both domestically and globally to harness the full capabilities at our command. And some are logistical – building the next generation of tech-savvy professionals that will be the cyber warriors and defenders of the future.
I am especially concerned with empowering a strong cyber workforce. It is crucial that we create a training pipeline for future cyber professionals. I know that, along with the work being done at Roger Williams, URI, the teams at Brown, CCRI, Salve Regina and others, the State Police have a great role to play in outreach to our younger generation. Whether it’s through programs like the Cyber Challenge or CyberPatriot, or just using some of the unique capacities of the State Police to inspire kids, those hands-on experiences are going to be crucial to ensuring we have enough of the best and brightest in the future.
We in Rhode Island are fortunate to have such an extensive stock of historic buildings. Unfortunately, many have fallen into vacancy and disrepair. In West Warwick, one of these gems – a beacon of our past and a bright spot for our future – will meet a different fate. Lippitt Mill has the potential to be a beautiful property, and with the vision of architect J. Michael Abbott and developers Harry Angevine and John Ponte , I know it will be. It was exciting to get to see the plans up close, to imagine how the structure will be transformed into housing for Rhode Islanders age 55 and older.
I am pleased that the architects and planners behind this project have chosen to rehabilitate an existing building into new housing. It has been wonderful to see the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Committee work to make sure that the mill structure can be maintained as a functional property without disturbing the historic nature of the building itself. This is a great reminder that we don’t need to make a choice between preservation and development: often one can complement the other.
Lippitt Mill is the second oldest cotton textile mill in Rhode Island, and a monument to Rhode Island’s Industrial past. Preserving this historic structure will add to the fabric of this neighborhood, and will preserve an architectural treasure for generations to come.
I cannot wait to return to see Lippitt Mill once it is fully restored and ready for residents.