Coworking space is an interesting concept, and if my recent visits to The Hive and The Hatch are any indication, it is a concept that is leading to some exciting things in Rhode Island.
The Hatch is a coworking space and start-up incubator in Providence that provides on-site consulting services, including legal and marketing expertise. These types of facilities with wraparound business services provide fertile ground for growth, especially for start-up companies that may not otherwise have the budget to access such services.
The community-based economy promoted by a coworking space is a good model. I would like to see similar programs employed in other parts of the state. One of Rhode Island’s strengths is its size and our ability to build strong connections between businesses and consumers. Centralized operations like The Hatch benefit from that connectivity on multiple levels, and it was great to see it in action. I had the opportunity to visit several Hatch members and learn more about their businesses. Everyone was so gracious, and I learned a lot about how coworking has helped them to thrive.
After my visit to The Hatch, I headed to Home Loan Investment Bank – a true institution in Rhode Island that has been in business for more than five decades. Under the tremendous leadership of the Murphy family, they continue to grow and adapt to the needs of their personal and commercial customers. They are a top 100 Small Business Administration lender, as well, which is great news for small businesses in Rhode Island.
I appreciated the chance to get up to speed on Home Loan’s operations, and the timing was ideal. Going right from a business tour to a bank was a perfect segue. One of the things I hear most often from business owners is that access to capital is a major hurdle for them. Meeting with lenders like Home Loan allows me to learn more about the programs they have available so I can then relay that to other businesses. On the flip side, I can also share the concerns I’m hearing from businesses with Home Loan. It’s about building relationships and partnerships, and the best way to do that is face to face with an honest conversation.
I was still in high school when I became interested in government. My mom was working on the mayoral campaign for Joe Walsh. Joe was successful in his bid for Mayor of Warwick, and for me, it started a lifelong passion for public service.
After catching the bug, I served in student government at Rhode Island College. I successfully ran for the state’s Constitutional Convention. I went on to pursue my Master’s in Public Administration at Harvard, and was elected as a State Representative and later Secretary of State before winning the Second Congressional District seat in 2000. Clearly, that early involvement in politics made a big impression.
So when I meet young people who share that glimmer of interest in civics, I love hearing their ideas.
The Model Legislature at Coventry High School is a wonderful program that exposes students to the legislative process. Students take positions as representatives and lobbyists, draft mock legislation and debate the merits of their bills. The group I met with had some very interesting bill ideas that were strongly rooted in current events, including a bill that would require police officers to wear cameras on their uniforms. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing their perspectives on what initiatives might pass if proposed in Congress. While many of the students may never pursue politics or work in government, their interest in and understanding of civics makes them responsible, knowledgeable citizens that can take an active role in the democratic process. I hope their passion spreads and can spark that same interest in their classmates. Community involvement is so important to feeling connected to and invested in where you live, and I can already see that reflected in the Coventry students.
During my visit to Coventry High School, I also had the opportunity to meet with the staff to discuss education. The biggest topic on their minds wasn’t classroom curriculum or high-stakes testing, however. Behavioral problems and truancy are distractions for all students, and according to the educators at CHS, a lot of these issues stem from mental illness and substance abuse. It’s sad to think of these problems as being so prevalent at the high school level, but the group candidly shared that they are seeing an epidemic of mental health and substance abuse problems, manifesting themselves in hallway disputes and student-teacher confrontations. The Coventry leadership team, under the direction of Principal Michael Hobin, is doing everything they can to tackle this challenge. They are persistent, and as Principal Hobin said, they reiterate to the students every day that they care and they want what is best for each “Oaker.” That compassion will go a long way, and I am so grateful to the staff at Coventry High School for going above and beyond to care for the whole student – inside and outside of the classroom. Like many other districts, Coventry struggles to allocate resources to this issue, but without targeted programs and interventions, the actual education component takes a backseat. I took the concerns of the group to heart, and I hope we can find a solution that works for everyone and the students in particular.
A Salute to Veterans
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
I love that quote from President Kennedy, and I think it is so true when we talk about honoring the men and women who have served and who continue to serve this nation. Holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day are important because they are a reminder that we must always keep our veterans in mind. It is a chance to honor their sacrifice and give thanks. But if we are to truly thank and honor of our veterans, it needs to be more than lip service and it can’t just come on the holidays.
When I developed my Advisory Committee program this year, veterans were on the top of my mind. One of the goals of each committee is to better understand the challenges our state is facing. The challenges faced by veterans are significant, to be certain, and it takes communication and collaboration to solve those problems. We are fortunate in our state to have many wonderful agencies and doctors, nurses and caseworkers who care deeply for our veterans. In the public and private sphere, the goal is to support our veterans when they return home and make that transition as smooth as possible. No veteran should be homeless, and we need to provide wraparound support services to get them clothed, fed, housed and on a path to living independently and successfully. These are talented, brave, hardworking men and women who have a unique set of skills. Those skills can serve them well in the workforce, in and outside of the military, and we have to do a better job as a country at putting those skills to work.
The conversation was great for our first Veterans Advisory Committee meeting, and I am so grateful to the many partners who have stepped up to contribute their thoughts. We touched upon legislation I’m working on, policies that must be enacted in the future and how we can best communicate with veterans about the resources that are available. With our roster, I’m confident that we can make a difference in the lives of veterans. Together, I think we can make Rhode Island the best state in the country when it comes to veteran services.
Saying Hi to Seniors
Outside, the ground was covered in slush as a new round of snow fell and bitterly cold winds whipped down Cranston Street.
Inside, Cranston seniors were all smiles.
The Cranston Senior Center has really great attendance numbers, and even though the weather kept many regulars from making the trip during my visit, it was still an impressive crowd as I visited tables to hear from seniors about the issues that are important to them. The number of members – and their level of enthusiasm – truly is a testament to the team they have there. From the kitchen staff to the activities coordinators to Executive Director Sue Stenhouse, they always put the needs of seniors first. I love going from room to room seeing what seniors are up to, whether it’s relaxing with a game of cards or getting help doing their taxes. It’s just an all-around fantastic community resource, and I look forward to going back soon! Outside, the ground was covered in slush as a new round of snow fell and bitterly cold winds whipped down Cranston Street.
A Taxing Issue
The Free File program is an excellent example of how government, the private sector and community organizations can work together to help Americans save money at tax time and receive the full amount of their hard-earned tax refund. It also helps improve financial literacy, which is a benefit to the whole family.
Through this public-private partnership with the IRS, 14 companies offer brand name tax preparation software for free to roughly 70 percent of taxpayers – people with an income of $60,000 or less – empowering them to prepare and file their own taxes. Rhode Island is one of 20 states plus the District of Columbia that participate in a state Free File program, allowing those eligible to file both their federal and state tax returns for free.
Many people dread tax season because filing their taxes can seem like a difficult process. But Free File software products do the hard work for you: helping people to not only complete their own tax return, but also to find and take advantage of every credit and deduction for which they are eligible. This is so important because all too often, people miss out on the credits and deductions they deserve because they are simply unaware of their eligibility. For instance, 20 to 25 percent of people who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit fail to claim it. This tax credit alone can help families get more than $6,000 back from IRS. The EITC is one of the most effective income assistance tools our community has. Last year, the average refund for those who claimed the EITC was $2,100. That’s a significant amount of money that can be used to build savings, pay rent, buy gas or purchase other necessities.
This causes an economic ripple effect. When a taxpayer spends that money in the community, it benefits our local businesses and supports jobs.
The IRS and Rhode Island save money because they spend less on processing costs and avoid the burdensome costs of building their own tax preparation systems. Workers and families save money on the cost of tax preparation and receive the full amount of their hard-earned refund.
Now we need your help to spread the word to all those in our community who can benefit from this important program.
FIRST Class Program
I am a huge fan of New England Tech. The college does such a wonderful job of training our young people, and they are in sync with the demands of the workforce. They understand what industries have high growth potential and they shape their curriculum around those industries. New England Tech graduates are highly skilled and ready to tackle the workforce.
I am also a huge fan of the FIRST Robotics Tech Challenge. STEM education benefits young people regardless of what career path they choose, and the FIRST Robotics program sparks a love of STEM learning in participants. The Challenge ignites a passion for problem solving, and year after year, I am blown away by the caliber of the student creations.
Combine those two entities, and it makes for an impressive event that inspires innovation.
It should come as no surprise then that more than 50 professionals from Rhode Island serve as judges, referees, software inspectors, hardware inspectors and in other critical event capacities. The profile of the FIRST Robotics Tech Challenge rises each year, and it has clearly caught the attention of many industry professionals. It is a wonderful example of how businesses and educators can partner to achieve great things. It is a model for others to follow and I am very proud of what they have achieved.
It is a joy to attend the FIRST competitions each year, to watch the program grow and build upon the previous year’s successes. These initiatives are vital to spurring interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I continually advocate for programs that increase enrollment in STEM fields. Closing the skills gap and giving workers the tools to succeed in the modern economy is how we will create an economy built to last.
A Living Legend
“I’ve always said that one man cannot win a war. It takes two men to do it. Cooperation is the thing and we should all pursue it.”
It’s a simple but powerful philosophy, and one of a powerful – though anything but simple – woman.
Mel Benson has had a distinguished career in education and public service. She taught in North Kingstown for 25 years and represented the town for 14 years in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. After leaving the State House, she was elected to the North Kingstown School Committee for another 8 years, right up until 2014. At 84 years old, Mel decided not to seek reelection last year, but knowing her, we have not heard the last from Melvoid Benson.
I was fortunate enough to serve with Mel in the State House, and she made a wonderful teammate and friend. She has always spoken her mind, but as her mantra suggests, does it with a strong willingness to compromise. She knows how to get things done, and her long career is a testament to her ability to do just that. When I visited her at the South County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, it came as no surprise that her sharp wit is intact and at the ready for the staff and for visitors. During my visit, Matt Leonard, Chairman of the North Kingstown Democratic Town Committee, presented Mel with a lifetime achievement award.
I can’t think of anyone more deserving.
Mel has truly dedicated her life to public service, and whether it was at the State House, in School Committee Chambers or in the classroom, she has put the best interests of Rhode Island – and its young people – first.
Almost one year ago to-date, in February 2014, I embarked on my RI Food Week tour. Over the course of one week, I visited 18 businesses and met even more Rhode Islanders who are engaged in the food economy. In September 2014, I followed up with another 10 business visits, including several farmers markets that allowed me to speak with dozens of farmers and food producers. The countless conversations I have had with these business leaders reaffirmed what I know to be true: the food economy is a central component of the overall Rhode Island economy, and it is a sector that needs our strong support.
To further tap into these industries and to discuss how we can help our food economy to grow, I established a Food First Advisory Committee. The first of seven advisory committees that I am in the process of starting, Food First brings together farmers; fishermen; restaurateurs; food producers and manufacturers; brewers, vintners and distillers; culinary educators and public policymakers. Our first meeting was a tremendous success, with 29 members in attendance. With some of the nation’s best food producers and restaurants located right here in Rhode Island, I wish I could invite dozens more!
I am confident that my advisory committee initiative will be mutually beneficial for my team and for each committee’s members. For me, committee members are a valuable resource as I consider legislation that affects their field. When the Farm Bill comes up, for example, I have a pool of institutional knowledge from which to pull. How does it affect local farmers? How could the bill be improved? When working with the House Small Brewers Caucus, I can turn to my members and ask what challenges they are facing that should be brought up in discussion. These are the people who are directly affected by agricultural, fisheries and business-related legislation, and they can help ensure I am well-equipped to represent Rhode Island’s interests on these issues.
For committee members, meetings offer an opportunity for discussion and collaboration. Even after just one meeting, several members are discussing ways in which they can co-brand products and help promote each other’s businesses. It’s a forum not only for legislative discussion, but also for networking. Together, we can brainstorm ways we can all promote and support a vibrant food economy.
Our goal is the same: we want to help the food economy grow in Rhode Island. We want to brand our state as a culinary destination. We want to increase access to healthy, locally-grown foods. We want to encourage sustainability and preserve the open farmland that makes our state such a beautiful place. We want to make it easier to do business in our state.
These are noble ambitions, but they cannot be achieved alone. The only way to bring this vision to fruition is through collaboration. We are stronger together than we are alone, and I am so excited to see what we can accomplish through the Food First Advisory Committee.
Be Aware of Benefits
Last year, roughly 84,000 Rhode Island households claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit from the IRS. Nationwide, that figure swells. In 2012 alone, the EITC helped 6.5 million people make ends meet. And for participating households, the benefits were significant, averaging $2,264 per family in Rhode Island.
The EITC is a benefit primarily for working people who have low to moderate incomes. Benefits not only help support Rhode Island families, but they also provide a boost to the local economy, funneling nearly $200 million back into the community, helping small business in particular. These are exciting figures, but we can still do more to raise awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit program. As much as $150 million is still left unclaimed, and we all have a responsibility to spread the word on the EITC. Let your friends and family know that they may be eligible for benefits. The IRS website has more information on eligibility, along with income guidelines.
The American Dream is still alive, and programs like EITC make it accessible for more hardworking Rhode Islanders. We are fortunate to have great organizations like the Rhode Island Community Action Association and the United Way of Rhode Island to make sure Rhode Islanders access the benefits to which they are entitled. The wonderful work of these organizations doesn’t end there. They will not only help you get the benefits you deserve, but they can also help you to manage those benefits.
As you prepare your taxes this year and navigate IRS paperwork, however, I urge my constituents to beware of scammers. Americans fall prey to these criminals every day – I know, because they’ve tried to scam me, too. It is very important to note that the IRS won’t call you for your Social Security number or any other personal information.
I have often called Quonset an anchor for the Rhode Island economy. It’s a topic that comes up quite regularly, given my support of the defense industry, which is closely intertwined with Electric Boat’s Quonset headquarters. But Quonset is anchored by more than EB, and I think many Rhode Islanders would be astonished – and certainly impressed – by the fantastic work being done by other Quonset resident businesses.
Take, for example, Hexagon Metrology.
With more than 20 production facilities, 70 service centers, thousands of employees and more than 100 distribution partners across five continents, the Hexagon brand extends far beyond Rhode Island’s borders. Yet we are so fortunate that Hexagon’s North American Headquarters is located in our state. Their global reach starts in North Kingstown, and we benefit from hundreds of jobs locally thanks to the company’s commitment to the Ocean State.
Hexagon Metrology is the largest supplier of metrology equipment and software in the world, and their products have applications in an array of industries, from aerospace and automotive to medical technology and alternative energy. They are doing business with companies in every corner of the globe, and some of the products manufactured right here in Rhode Island are essential to operations tens of thousands of miles away.
I was very impressed by Hexagon’s operation, but the best takeaway from my visit is being able to hear firsthand what challenges they are facing. Because of Hexagon’s global footprint, they deal with trade and regulatory hurdles that many smaller businesses are unfamiliar with. No two businesses are identical, and the questions and concerns they have are likewise quite different. When I meet face-to-face with business leaders, I can fully understand what they need in order to continue to be successful and to grow in the future, and that dialogue is so important. I am grateful that Hexagon has chosen to invest in Rhode Island, and I hope that commitment will continue. I, for one, will be here to help in any way I can.
Busy Bees at The Hive
On Saturday mornings, the Lafayette Mill comes alive for the Coastal Growers Winter Farmers Market. Shoppers support local farmers and artisans, stopping for lunch at one of the curbside vendors outside.
Just feet away, in the back of the mill, that energy never stops buzzing.
The Hive RI is a community-based, co-working facility that supports small business. Start-ups can run their operations from a couch in the shared workspace. Small business owners that are based in the main building stop by for working lunches or to bounce ideas off their neighbors. Interns get a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to run a business.
Each partner, each business, is as important as the next, and is just as interdependent. It’s a concept that was implemented out of necessity. The top floor of the mill was, at one time, occupied by a single organization. When they left, the financial hit was almost too much. Now, co-founder and self-proclaimed “economic gardener” Tuni Schartner wants a system where they are never too dependent on any one piece of the puzzle. A small office space will always be easier to fill than an anchor office, and with that in mind, Tuni began plugging in the kind of supportive small businesses she thought would be the best fit.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the business owners and the business owners in-the-making, and was especially impressed by the community-based model. When the name of a small hair salon in the mill came up, Tuni relayed that she gets her hair cut there. Hands starting popping up; so do many others. That’s what the Hive is all about – business supporting business and encouraging people to live, work and play in their community. Member businesses feel a strong connection and a sense of responsibility to the Rhode Island economy, to the North Kingstown community, and to their fellow businesses within The Hive. Success for one is celebrated by all, and that kind of collaborative, innovative approach to doing business is a model that we can learn from and share with businesses across the state.
Honoring the King
Ebenezer Baptist Church is a landmark. It is a big, beautiful space, often filled with singing and laughter. It is filled with life and with history. It’s a place to be treasured.
And there is no place more fitting for a celebration of the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While the opportunity to reflect on and speak about Dr. King’s message is important, the best way for us to honor his spirit and legacy is through our actions - by stepping in when we see injustice; focusing on what connects us, instead of on what divides us; and by giving back to our communities. Living as do so many parishioners at Ebenezer Baptist. As Dr. King so eloquently said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We in Rhode Island have faced our share of challenges, but I am always so proud of our community, and my neighbors who face these challenges with grace, generosity, strength and compassion.
I have always believed that we can overcome even the most daunting challenges when we join together in difficult moments. Ebenezer Baptist Church is a shining example of what a community can accomplish when it stands together. It is a reminder that, when we put Dr. King’s words into practice, we can build a future of unlimited promise and potential.
Lunch with Seniors
If you want to get a good idea of the opinions of your constituents and the issues that matter to them – go to a senior center. It truly is the pulse of a community. I’ve always enjoyed spending time with seniors, and as an elected official, that time is particularly important. Seniors have an important perspective and a wealth of experience, which combine to craft strong, well-informed opinions on everything from health care to education. Seniors are usually very candid, and that honesty is important when I’m seeking input on any given topic.
The members of the Coventry Senior Center came through.
It was a great visit and I really appreciated the chance to talk to the members one-on-one as I went from table to table. It was also a wonderful chance to learn more about some of the on-site programming there, including the Project Friends program. In addition to serving as a meal site and offering programming for seniors, the Coventry Senior Center is a licensed community-based day service program for adults with developmental disabilities. Several of the Project Friends participants were present during lunch with the seniors, and they had very positive feedback about the program. One young man, Mike, is only at Project Friends two days a week, but said he can’t wait to be there five days. He told me how nice the staff is, and the seniors seemed equally fond of him. That kind of social interaction benefits everyone – Mike, the seniors and the staff. I’m so grateful that we have programs like this in our community, and I want to say a big thanks to the Coventry Senior Center team for inviting me for lunch!
Friend to All Children
The Children’s Friend organization supports and strengthens Rhode Island families, changing the lives of so many at-risk young people. During a visit in December, as staff and volunteers sorted through a room filled to the brim with Christmas presents for children in need, I was humbled. The visit reminded me of the importance of support agencies like Children’s Friend, which is exactly why I have long fought against sequestration and in support of improved funding for education. They have done so much for our community, and I am grateful that they are expanding their presence in Providence, opening up a new facility on Hartford Avenue that will serve as a Head Start site, among other services.
It’s heartening to see the investments that we are making in early childhood education. Head Start exists to ensure that every child has the ability to take advantage of America’s boundless opportunities. Early childhood is arguably the most impressionable and important time for social development, and early childhood education plays a key role in achieving a higher level of socialization, problem solving and academic readiness later in life. Head Start is an investment in our middle class and in economic mobility. For families who can’t afford daycare, Head Start is a vital part of their safety net. It provides resources that would otherwise be unavailable and helps parents of young children to return to full-time employment.
I’m pleased that in early 2014, Congress took action to reverse the short-sighted cuts to Head Start due to sequestration. Although this funding was maintained into 2015, I am hopeful that we will be able to increase funding and ensure that every child who needs them has access to Head Start programs. The results are clear: children in Head Start are better prepared to learn, have higher self-esteem, and exhibit more advanced social behavior when they enter school. Imagine what we’re denying our country by not allowing every child the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.
If we support organizations like Children’s Friend, we won’t need to find out.
Someone Who Matters
The Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership is an exceptional organization that matches Rhode Island volunteers with young people in need of a friend or some added guidance. Each week, RIMP mentors go into schools to play board games, read and do crafts, or just to talk. And for the children enrolled in the program, that hour makes all the difference in the world.
Everyone needs support, and that support comes in many forms. It could be from parents and siblings or from colleagues. For RIMP children, it comes from their mentors. I am so grateful for the sacrifice of time and talent that these mentors give each week, because I too know how important it can be to have a mentor.
There have been many people who have influenced my life and career, including the late Senator Claiborne Pell. Senator Pell was a true statesman and the man who inspired me to pursue public service. I was fortunate enough to intern twice for the Senator in his Washington, D.C., office while I was a student, and what I learned from him significantly shaped my career. Senator Pell was beloved by so many Rhode Islanders, and I consider myself lucky to have known him and worked with him. His legacy lives on, which was clear when RIMP reached out and asked me to share a photo of myself with someone whom I consider a mentor. I shared the photo on my Facebook page, and it got more than 200 likes, comments and shares. Senator Pell dedicated his life to making Rhode island, and our nation, a better place. He always put the people of Rhode Island first and that contribution is still felt today, especially through the Pell grants for which he fought so adamantly. He is still a role model for me, and I miss him dearly.
And for all the RIMP volunteer mentors, I remind you that there is a young person who feels the same way about you.
The turnout at the 3rd annual Statewide Information Technology Career Fair at Bryant University was fantastic, and I hope indicative of the growing interest in IT fields. The fair was attended by more than 300 high school students, in addition to teachers and administrators from 12 local high schools, and fair participants included Microsoft, AT&T and the Rhode Island State Police. Students attended workshops and networked with industry professionals throughout the day. I was honored to address the group, and I hope the students will take my advice to heart – information technology is a valuable skill and an asset in any workplace.
We may be a small state, but events and advancement opportunities like the Bryant career fair are part of our long and proud tradition of producing highly-skilled, well-trained workers. There is a growing demand for IT professionals in our state and across the country, and these skills are applicable to a broad field of careers and disciplines. Learning programming languages, like learning any other language, does not limit your career potential, but rather expands it. I am committed to expanding opportunities in this wide-ranging field, especially in my capacity as co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus.
The skills gap in Rhode Island makes it hard for employers to find trained employees. It is so frustrating for me to see jobs available with no one to fill them. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is still unacceptably high, and that won’t change until we train and retrain our workforce for the jobs that are in demand and have high growth potential. That is why I plan to reintroduce the Counseling for Career Choice Act, a bill to empower local education agencies to offer career counseling services to students so they can make informed decisions about their future. Information Technology is most certainly a career and technical education path that can lead to future success.
The public sees anecdotally the importance of having well-trained IT professionals in the workforce, as we have witnessed cyber-attacks on well-known companies such as Sony Pictures, Target and Home Depot in the past year. As co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, I will continue to work tirelessly to make sure businesses and individuals will be protected from these types of attacks in the future.
I see firsthand the growing need for highly-skilled IT professionals in all sectors of the economy, and if we capitalize on these opportunities before us, there will be no limit on what we can achieve together.
Opportunity for All
Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois has been a champion for immigration reform, and here in Rhode Island, my colleague David Cicilline and I are equally committed to the cause. It was great for the three of us to come together, along with Mayors James Diossa and Jorge Elorza, Progreso Latino, Dorcas International and the Diocese of Providence, for a public forum on immigration policy and how it affects Rhode Islanders. The auditorium at the Providence Career and Technical Academy was filled to the brim, which I think is a testament to how important this issue is to our state.
I was proud to help welcome Congressman Gutierrez to the Ocean State, because while we sincerely appreciate President Obama’s efforts to enact sensible immigration policies, it is ultimately the duty of Congress to fix our broken immigration system once and for all.
I believe that with partners like Congressmen Cicilline and Gutierrez, we can make this right. And our work is far from done.
As long as millions toil under unsafe conditions for unfair wages, we are not done. As long as it is easier to find a smuggler than get a visa, we are not done. As long as families can still be torn apart by the federal government, we are not done.
I cannot overstate the importance of the President’s recent actions on immigration. With the stroke of his pen, he has improved life immeasurably for five million of our friends and neighbors. But Congress must enact comprehensive immigration reform, and I will continue to add my voice to the fight in Washington so this effort is not allowed to languish.
Cyber at Center Stage
It was more than six years ago that my work in cybersecurity grew from an area of interest to a legislative priority. In 2008, after exploring the world of cyberspace in my capacity at that time as a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I was honored to serve as co-chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency. That same year, I joined Congressman Mike McCaul (R-TX) in creating the first-ever Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.
I have been sounding the alarm on the need for improved cyber defenses ever since.
For much of this time, cybersecurity has remained on the radar of only those fully immersed in national security issues. To many, it seemed a far-off concept – a threat that may never come to pass. While I still hope that the threats are not realized, I am not so naïve. I believe that modern warfare will never again exist without a cyber component. I believe that cybersecurity presents a national security threat, and also a major risk for our economy security. Billions of dollars have been lost from the theft of intellectual property, and as private companies like Home Depot, Target and Michael’s have found out the hard way, taking cybersecurity seriously is not an expense you can put off. Rather, it’s an issue of “pay me now or pay me later.” Improved cyber defenses do not come cheap, but neither do the financial losses caused by damaged consumer confidence, stolen customer information or stock market hits that come in the wake of a public hack.
As I’m sure the leadership team at Sony would tell you, cybersecurity should be a priority.
I am sympathetic to Sony’s situation. The hit they have sustained from a perception and a cost perspective is substantial. But if there is one good thing to come of all this, I hope it is the increased awareness of how serious this problem is. It is not a problem to be solved, but one to be managed, and if we are going to do that, we need to take action today. The Internet was not built with security in mind, but security must be on our minds going forward.
The headlines describe one hack on one private company, the postponement on the screening of just one film. But between the lines, I fear that this story goes much deeper. What if instead of Sony, it was our banking system? Or wastewater treatment facilities? Or our telecommunication networks? Our lives are tied to the Internet in nearly every way, and the aperture of vulnerability is wide open. We need to close that gap before the worst cyber weapons find their way into the hands of the worst actors; before a terrorist group has the means to shut down our electric grid in the dead of winter. We wouldn’t just be talking about a private company or a movie. We would be talking about enormous costs and the potential loss of life. We would be talking about cyber warfare.
If there were any doubts that cyber threats pose a grave danger to the United States, or lingering beliefs that the cyber threat is mere hype, the Sony hack is one of the clearest indications to date that those doubts are just wrong. Cyber threats are more serious and frequent than ever, and efforts by the public and private sector alike must keep pace. Ignorance and inaction are simply inexcusable.
No private entity can reasonably be expected to withstand the resources of a country. However, the private sector and in particular critical infrastructure can and must do more to shore up their cyber defenses. Moreover, publicly traded companies should disclose the scope of their efforts to do so in order to allow shareholders to properly evaluate risk. Similarly, the new Congress should act without delay to pass a comprehensive cybersecurity information sharing bill to allow the federal government to share what it knows about threats in cyberspace with the private sector, and vice versa. In the new Congress, I look forward to pressing forward on these efforts and others to increase our nation’s cyber preparedness.
Congress needs to wake up. We can’t ignore the warning signs anymore. Another six years is too long to wait.
Food, technology and manufacturing – these are some of the growth industries in Rhode Island, and areas where our state truly shines. We have a strong foundation of talent provided by our colleges and universities, a history of manufacturing that goes back to the start of the Industrial Revolution and a global reputation as a “foodie” paradise. It is with this rich tradition and the commitment of public and private officials to improving our overall business climate that we open our doors to five international companies considering a move to the Ocean State.
Galivm is an Italian-based restaurant franchise. Euranet and REIOS, also from Italy, employ supply chain specialists and manufacture lighting systems, respectively. Monaghan Bros. is an Irish furniture company, and SCORE is an English cybersecurity firm. These five companies hope to open American headquarters in Rhode Island, thanks in part to an overseas trip by Governor Lincoln Chafee and Marcel Valois of Commerce RI. Governor Chafee’s pursuit of these overseas partners paid off, and I couldn’t be happier about it. It is this kind of out-of-the-box thinking and proactive approach that will create jobs here and improve our reputation to become one of the best states in which to do business.
Rhode Island is poised for growth, and I am a ready and willing partner as we expand our economy, attracting new business and supporting existing business.
Blood, Sweat and Trailers
I have been to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center countless times, but seeing a film set inside the arena is definitely a first. I had the opportunity to see firsthand the filming of “Bleed for This,” a Verdi Productions film about the Rhode Island boxer, Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza. “Bleed for This” is a Rhode Island story, so it is fitting that a Rhode Island film company would be charged with telling it. Chad Verdi was so kind to invite me to the set, and the real Vinny Paz was right by his side, ready to lend support and advice to the actor, Miles Teller, who is portraying him on the big screen.
Filming a motion picture here brings great exposure to Rhode Island, and the influx of cast and crew helps to support our tremendous hospitality and food industries. I’m sure Miles and his costars have already tried some of the exceptional restaurants in downtown Providence, and I’m hopeful that the experience will bring them back time and again. I was also encouraged to see Steven Feinberg from the Rhode Island Film and Television Office on set. Attracting Hollywood to Rhode Island is a boon for our economy and our reputation as a world-class destination, and it’s important that we have an advocate like the Rhode Island Film and Television Office in our corner of the ring.
“Bleed for This” will put the spotlight on Rhode Island, and I look forward to seeing the finished product.
'Tis the Season
Nothing puts me in the holiday spirit like spending time with constituents and showing my support for the many people and organizations in our state that give back to their communities. It is a busy time of year, but the events are often heartwarming and always very important to me. I stopped by the MS Dream Center to say hello to their members and supporters, made a donation to the Children’s Friend toy drive and met with the pre-school class at The Meeting Street School to record my greeting for their annual telethon.
All three of these organizations do so much for our community and serve such important purposes. The MS Dream Center champions accessibility, increases independence and minimizes isolation for people with multiple sclerosis. Children’s Friend serves at-risk youth and makes the holidays a little brighter for all their families, and Meeting Street improves the lives of children with disabilities. I am grateful to have such exceptional organizations and generous individuals in our state.
10,000 and Counting
According to Steven King, managing director of the Quonset Development Corporation, one in every 50 people working in the private sector in Rhode Island is employed at the Quonset Business Park. That’s 10,000 employees, all working at Quonset. That is an incredible accomplishment, and I cannot congratulate Quonset enough on this exciting milestone.
It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in just 9 years. In less than a decade, the QDC team – with help from public and private partners - transformed Quonset from a military base to a thriving center of commerce. With almost 200 companies ranging from insurance to shipbuilding, and over 4,000 jobs created since 2005, Quonset is a wonderful example of what Rhode Island can accomplish. I’m incredibly proud of the collaboration that has happened behind the scenes, and I am excited to keep working with my colleagues in government and the Quonset business partners to build on these successes in the coming years.
We also need to make sure that workers are being trained for the job openings of tomorrow. Both technical skills and soft skills will be needed at Quonset and across the state – some will be learned in the classroom, others through workplace experience. As co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I am always working with my colleagues, in Washington and in Rhode Island, to ensure that students and workers are able to gain the skills they need to succeed in their careers. As we build a capable workforce, we should ensure that students have access to internships and apprenticeships. There is no substitute for on-the-job training, and these students end up becoming great candidates for all the new jobs we’ll be working to fill at Quonset.
I believe that the success of Quonset can be translated to other areas and industries in Rhode Island. We should learn from best practices and share those ideas with other businesses. And at Quonset, we should keep pushing forward so we can reach 20,000 jobs!
Taking Over Burrillville
At this time last year, the Daniele facility in Burrillville was just walls and a roof, the interior filled with sand floors and the wind whipping through doors covered only by tarps.
What a difference a year makes.
About $70 million and a lot of hard work later, Davide and Stefano Dukcevich have further transformed their family’s business that started from a makeshift food cart in Italy. The new facility is absolutely beautiful, and when it reaches capacity, there will be 1 million legs of prosciutto hanging until they reach their optimal taste. High-tech robots glide through the hallways, picking up racks of prosciutto and carrying them to be salted or processed for shipping to one of the many retailers with whom Daniele works. Twenty-five percent of sales come from abroad. Stateside, Daniele distributes to Dave’s Marketplace, Whole Foods, Costco, Target, Starbucks and more. Each year, they get closer to becoming a household name. Certainly here in Rhode Island, recognition of the Daniele brand and what it stands for continues to rise.
Daniele, Inc., has grown tremendously over the past few years, and employs more than 400 people in Rhode Island. Furthermore, the Dukcevich family has a strong desire to stay and grow here. Not only do they find Rhode Island to be a good place to do business, but they also have roots in their community. Their father brought Daniele over to Rhode Island and they are committed to keeping it here. They aren’t just interested in their own success – they’re interested in the success of this state as a whole, and of the many other businesses located here.
During my visit, accompanied by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Davide and Stefano outlined their plans for the future, but also made some great suggestions on how Rhode Island can be more competitive when it comes to growing our food economy. A report they gave us described New York’s success in this arena, especially through the opening of a “Taste NY” store that features all locally-made products. They pointed to a public market in Cleveland that makes the “shop local” mantra more accessible for Ohio residents, as well as the public market scheduled to open in Boston in the summer of 2015. Similarly, Louisville, Kentucky, is on track to open what could be the nation’s largest food hub.
Why not us, they ask?
I have the same question. I believe we can elevate Rhode Island’s reputation as a food destination – a Culinary Valley – and I will do everything in my power to support that vision. I agree that we are on the verge of something spectacular. If we continue to make it easier to do business in Rhode Island and rebrand our state as a culinary capital, I think the possibilities are truly endless. I’m confident that Daniele will be at the forefront of whatever the future holds.
Food is a growth industry here, and if we push that growth along, it will mean more jobs and a stronger economy. That’s something I think we all have an appetite for.