A South County Tradition
One of the best things about coming from a small state like Rhode Island is the strong sense of community. Rhode Islanders can be critical of their home state, but they are also fiercely loyal and can be very proud when it comes to “their” city or town and “their” favorite people and places.
For many South County residents, “their” favorite event comes at the end of July.
Every summer, you can see community pride on display at the annual Blessing of the Fleet and Seafood Festival. Sponsored by the Narragansett Lions, the event kicks off with a road race and ends with a seafood festival, and watercraft of every shape and size make their way into the Port of Galilee to be blessed. The food is fantastic, the atmosphere is great and the parade of boats is a beautiful reminder of why Rhode Island is called the Ocean State.
It was my pleasure to attend the official launch of New England Tech’s Shipbuilding/Marine Trades and Advanced Manufacturing Institute (SAMI). Funded by a $2.5 million U.S. Department of Labor grant, the program offers advanced manufacturing training to Rhode Islanders, with an emphasis on unemployed, displaced adult workers, veterans and recent high school graduates.
When I visit businesses around the state, I am frustrated to discover that many have jobs available, but they struggle to fill these positions because they cannot find workers with the necessary skills. Unemployment is one of the most serious issues plaguing our economy, and efforts to close this skills gap will be essential to getting more people back to work. Advanced manufacturing technology has made it so that a high school diploma alone is no longer enough to pursue a manufacturing career. SAMI, a post-secondary program, will provide Rhode Islanders with the training they need to fill these jobs in a growing field.
Nearly 100 Rhode Islanders have already completed the SAMI program with remarkable success. Of those who completed the program, more than 90 percent are already employed, with 20 job offers coming from Electric Boat. Donnie Daniel Jr., a recent SAMI graduate, spoke about his experience in the program and how it ultimately helped him to earn a job at Electric Boat.
The SAMI program will also help to bolster the long and proud shipbuilding tradition in Rhode Island. Our shipbuilding industry is inextricably tied to our defense-industrial base, which added more than $3.75 billion to the Rhode Island economy in 2013 alone, supporting over 33,000 jobs statewide. Current plans are for hundreds of additional jobs to be created at Electric Boat in the coming years, helping to maintain this strong sector of our economy well into the future. Thanks to NEIT’s SAMI program, we can all be optimistic about the future of our state’s economy.
To Protect and Preserve
Rhode Island homes, businesses and natural resources were all hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and the toll on tourism and the economy continues to be significant. That’s why I was so thrilled that after a tough fight in Congress, especially in the House, we were able to approve disaster relief funding that benefits Rhode Island and the many communities that were impacted up and down the eastern seaboard.
More than $2.5 million came to Rhode Island for repairs and recovery work, and the resulting Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Grants for Historic Properties will benefit 23 properties in 10 Rhode Island cities and towns. These are iconic Rhode Island destinations we’re talking about – sites that we cannot afford to lose. The relief grants will go a long way to restoring these properties to their original condition, ensuring their viability as destinations in the future. Most importantly, the repairs and improvements being made will help fortify these properties against future weather events.
At the celebratory event, one of the speakers asked, “can you imagine Narragansett without The Towers?” as the historic building loomed large behind him. I certainly can’t imagine Narragansett without The Towers, and the same is true for all of the grant recipients on that list. Southeast Lighthouse in Block Island, Stillhouse Cove Park in Cranston, Watch Hill Lighthouse in Westerly – these are all beautiful treasures that we love as Rhode Islanders and that tourists long to see. We must do everything in our power to ensure they are preserved and protected for many generations to come.
Getting Back on Track
The United States Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, was in Rhode Island to share his frustration that Congress has not acted to extend the Highway Trust Fund or come up with a long-term funding solution.
Well, Secretary, you and I share that frustration.
In order to shore up the trust fund through December, another $8.1 billion is needed, and we need to act quickly to ensure that funding is identified and projects underway are not derailed. If we do not act before August 1, the funding levels could dip to a dangerously low level, stopping the Transportaion Department in its tracks on the payment of contractor bills. In other words, the workers might not get paid. And if they don’t get paid, the projects don’t move forward.
That is bad news for Rhdoe Island and for America. Infrastructure is one of those crucial issues that impact so many areas of our economy. We’re talking about jobs in engineering, design and construction. We’re talking about the ability of Rhode Islanders to get to and from work. We’re talking about access to public transportation. We’re talking about public safety. We’re talking about showing existing businesses and those who might consider relocating to Rhode Island that we believe in our state and we invest in its infrastructure. Infrastructure is central to all of these things, and crumbling roads and bridges go a long way to dismantling those priorities.
I have been engaged on the funding shortfall issue for quite some time, and I firmly believe that Congress can fix this problem. I co-sponsored a proposal to close a tax loophole for companies that send profits overseas. The savings there would help save the trust fund and give us enough time to find a long-term solution. We shouldn’t be revisiting this same argument over and over. I believe we must have a multi-year transportation funding system that allows our federal, state and municipal governments to plan for the future.
Secretary Foxx is right to be frustrated. I just hope my colleagues in Congress will alleviate those concerns and move this country forward on a path to smart investment.
Tip a Glass to RI Brewers
In recognition of the importance and vibrancy of the food economy in Rhode Island, I embarked on RI Food Week in February. This summer, I’m washing it down with a series of visits to Rhode Island microbreweries.
The Rhode Island Brewers Guild is a coalition of small breweries – a rapidly growing industry here. For a long time, Newport Storm was the only show in town, with even Narragansett then (and still) brewed out of state. Newport Storm has a lot of colleagues nowadays. I use the word colleagues purposely, instead of competitors, because the industry leaders in Rhode Island recognize that they have a better chance of enacting change and improving the business climate together than alone. Their ranks are growing by the month, with Grey Sail, Foolproof, Revival Brewing, Whaler’s and The Bucket all taking a seat at the table. Brewpubs are also a part of the discussion, and when I joined a recent meeting of the RI Brewers Guild, I had the chance to meet the owners of another brewery, Crooked Current, which will be up and running soon.
I have been supportive of policy that promotes these types of small businesses, but my ability to advocate on their behalf is greatly improved when I have the opportunity to meet with them and speak candidly. All of the brew masters and brew owners at the meeting were well versed not only in the challenges of owning a small business, but also in the issues facing their specific industry as well. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and I will take that knowledge back with me to Washington.
As a member of the Small Brewers Caucus, I cosponsored the Small BREW Act, a bill that would reduce the amount of federal excise tax that small breweries must pay, allowing them to reinvest those savings to grow and strengthen their businesses and create additional jobs.
The challenges don’t stop there, however. One of the issues that consistently came up in our meeting is that the rules governing breweries and brew pups are not universal in the region. Each state has its own regulations, and when you’re within a half hour drive to another brewery across the border, that inconsistency really matters. These are primarily state-level matters, but I will keep my eye on the industry and continue these talks in order to move issues forward and be a strong voice on their behalf.
The amount of innovation and scientific progress taking place every day right here in Rhode Island never ceases to amaze me. I can now add Nabsys to that list of innovators. A Providence life sciences company, Nabsys specializes in developing technologies that complement human genome sequencing and analysis. I had the pleasure of meeting with Nabsys President and CEO Dr. Barrett Bready, who gave me a tour of the state-of-the-art facility and a short overview of Nabsys’ history and goals.
Genome sequencing is essential to identifying and understanding hereditary diseases. Nabsys is developing technology that will allow for faster, more accurate, and larger scale DNA sequencing while allowing for the analysis of genome structural variation. This technology has the potential to have a major impact on many essential industries, such as health care and defense.
It was truly inspiring to see the incredible work Nabsys is doing, and the fact that many of Nabsys’ employees hail from Rhode Island makes me hopeful that other high tech companies will also find our state an attractive place to do business.
Dr. Bready’s personal accomplishments are extremely impressive as well. He helped Nabsys grow from a single employee to more than 40 while raising $50 million in venture capital for the company. Meanwhile, he serves on the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, a redevelopment project in downtown Providence that will look to attract life sciences and other high technology sectors to the area
During our discussion about Nabsys, he shared some of his ideas for the project. It is great to see Rhode Island business leaders working collaboratively to find innovative solutions that will revitalize our state’s economy.
21st Century Oncology
One of my favorite things to do during my time in Rhode Island is to meet new people and visit new companies – whether they are new to the state or just new to me. The more perspectives I have on doing business or providing services in Rhode Island, the better. These stories highlight what is working and what is not, here and nationwide, and the experiences of my constituents help shape my work in Washington.
With that in mind, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take an introductory, informational tour of the 21st Century Oncology Facility in Wakefield, located within South County Radiation Therapy and in partnership with South County Hospital. This cancer care facility provides radiation therapy from a patient-centric approach, and the doctors and medical professionals there really gave me a comprehensive overview of the treatment and care they offer to their patients. I am very grateful that Rhode Islanders have this type of facility close by, so they can remain in their communities and stay close to their support network of family and friends while they battle this horrible disease. With 21st Century Oncology in their corner, they can fight even harder.
Moms Demand Action
In the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the nationwide call to improve gun safety laws in America has grown stronger than ever. Here in Rhode Island, there are many people who dedicate their time and resources to finding a solution to gun violence. I was honored to have the Rhode Island Chapter of Moms Demand Action visit my Warwick office to discuss their concerns as well as their accomplishments. Moms Demand Action is an organization that has more than 100,000 members throughout America. Each state has its own chapter, made up of volunteers who work tirelessly to develop gun safety laws and keep children safe from the senseless acts of violence we see too often on television, in the newspapers and in our own communities. Thank you to Moms Demand Action for your leadership and advocacy, and to all who work towards making America a safer place.