A Meal to Remember
Over the summer, a Rhode Island physician by the name of Dr. Ehsun Mirza very courageously shared his story of racial profiling in the Providence Journal. Dr. Mirza admitted that he, too, was guilty of profiling other ethnic and religious groups based on their depiction in popular culture.
Then 9/11 turned his world upside down.
Dr. Mirza had emigrated from Pakistan and, despite his education, his prestigious career and his involvement in the community, he found that most people saw him first as Muslim.
That is the experience, unfortunately, of many Muslim Americans in this country. I feel very fortunate to know Dr. Mirza, who serves on my Diversity Advisory Committee, and he has taught me so much already about what it means and what it is like to be Muslim in this country and in our own state. Like the Hollywood-inspired profiling he discusses in his op-ed, much of what people think about Islam and its followers is shaped by misinformation. We need to break these stereotypes so no one is profiled or unfairly targeted by prejudice, isolation, bullying, or even violence.
Dr. Mirza, as well as his friends and fellow followers of Islam, want Rhode Islanders to learn more about their faith. I hope to be helpful in these efforts to increase awareness and acceptance, and Dr. Mirza’s home was a perfect place to start. He gathered a group of approximately 50 people for a lively discussion (and delicious food), and we talked about what more can be done, in ways big and small, to fight the unjust persecution of Muslim Americans. More than anything, I believe it’s about educating ourselves about what the tenets of Islam truly are, and not what they have been perverted to mean by some extremists. The faith has been hijacked by terrorists, but the best defense is to build a stronger, collaborative relationship with the Muslim community.
Everyone was so generous with their time and their stories, and I’m truly grateful to all of them for an evening that will stay with me forever.
Rhode Island has such a wonderfully diverse population, and the amalgamation of varied cultures and beliefs is what makes our state such a great place to live. Each neighborhood has its own unique character; each culture its own traditions. These cultures come alive in our restaurants, in the arts, in our schools and in so many other ways that affect us every day.
I love having the chance to experience and honor different cultures, and I had double the opportunity between the Chinese New Year celebration in Smithfield and the Dominican Independence Day celebration in Providence. For seven years, Bryant University has played host to the largest Chinese New Year celebration in the state, in conjunction with their U.S.-China Institute. The U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University connects academic, business and cultural leaders at the school with public and private partners in China, and that partnership enhances global perspectives for Bryant students and the community at large. It was great to be back with the Institute for this year’s celebration, along with Senator Jack Reed and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, to recognize the Year of the Monkey.
Less than 24 hours later, I was switching gears to celebrate Dominican Independence Day at Providence City Hall. It was a Providence who’s-who, and we were all so impressed by the performers, especially the young student dancers who brought Dominican culture to life in the City Council Chambers. There was excellent music and entertainment, and it was a wonderful reminder of why diversity makes our community better and stronger.
Thank you to both the Chinese and Dominican communities in Rhode Island for allowing me to celebrate with you, and keep up the great work you do in preserving and promoting your vibrant cultures!
The start-up costs of opening a business can be prohibitive for aspiring entrepreneurs, and there is truly no one-size-fits-all approach to doing business.
Sprout, a new coworking space in Providence, understands that.
The Sprout facility and the amenities it provides can be tailored to organizations and companies of all sizes and compositions. They allow big ideas to get off the ground without the big costs. Young people just starting out can test the waters of their business ideas, and established companies can expand their reach by utilizing remote workspaces.
I have seen firsthand the wonderful things that can happen in shared workspaces and incubators. At The Hive in North Kingstown, at Hope and Main in Warren and at The Hatch in Providence, we see how great ideas can blossom into successful operations. I believe that Sprout can foster similar results for its members, and I was excited to be on hand to not only officially open the business, but also to celebrate the creativity and innovation behind a new way of doing business.
Sprout members can take advantage of a range of plans that include features like workspaces, lockable storage, private offices, meeting and conference facilities, and a business mailing address. WiFi, fax, a health club, and even 24-7 access can be added to plans, giving options for every type of coworking community member.
Collaboration is key to success in so many aspects of our lives. We rely on our families and friends for personal support. At the office, teamwork yields positive results. And at Sprout, the coworking community model provides the kind of built-in support that businesses need to flourish. I applaud the Sprout team for thinking outside the box, and for their commitment to helping others grow.
Catching up with the Council
The New England Council describes itself as “an alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations that promotes economic growth in the New England region.” Clearly, the council covers a wide range of industries and organizations, and appropriately, my remarks at their annual luncheon covered an equally-wide range of issues. The federal budget, national security, and my legislative priorities of cybersecurity and workforce development were all on deck.
Members of the New England Council who gathered at The Biltmore for the luncheon are some of the best and brightest in their fields, and it is always an honor to appear before them. It is even more exciting when I have good news to share, and the end of last year provided positive fodder for our discussion, between passage of a bipartisan education bill, a five-year transportation bill, a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, and a funding bill that included several permanent tax extenders. Given the partisanship that has defined Congress of late, it was a refreshing year-end, and I know the New England Council was pleased with that progress.
There remains an uphill climb, however, as we enter an election year and face resistance from those who would rather put off large-scale legislative priorities for the next President. I will do my part to push forward an agenda that supports both economic development and middle class growth, however, and I do so knowing I have a deep bench of New England Council members with whom I can consult.
I could go on about legislation for days – and probably went on too long during the luncheon – but I so appreciated the chance to speak with the Council, and I’m grateful for all that they do to make New England a model and a leader across a dynamic spectrum of industries.
Supply Chain of Command
In the 36 years that Dean Warehouse Services has been in business, it has grown to become one of the largest supply chain management firms in the country. They have more than four million square feet of warehouse space in the U.S., with 650,000 in Warwick alone. I’m thrilled to report that all of their East Coast facilities are in Rhode Island. There are locations in Warwick, Cumberland, Lincoln and Ashaway, in addition to two California locations.
In short, it’s a pretty sizable operation.
Dean Warehouse was founded by Brad Dean, Sr., but it’s his son, Brad Jr., who runs the family operation nowadays. Brad Jr. was kind enough to lead me on a tour of the Warwick warehouse, along with VP of Operations Chris Castelli and VP of Information Technology Chris Goodfellow. I was very impressed by this trio and their extensive knowledge about the company and industry trends. Brad, naturally, is an expert on the company’s history. No matter what question I fired off at Castelli, he had an answer. Square footage, number of trucks, miles traveled – you name it, it was on the tip of his tongue. Goodfellow, too, is an expert on his side of the business, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking to him about the cybersecurity protocols they employ. While many businesses have unfortunately considered cybersecurity an afterthought, Dean Warehouse Services makes it a priority. Goodfellow and I could have talked all day about defense systems, firewalls and software.
Strong cybersecurity is definitely an important service for customers, but it’s the supply chain that Dean specializes in. They provide warehousing, transportation, logistics and property management, and their reputation has resulted in a long list of clients. They have 115 clients that are served in Warwick alone, not to mention the companies they work with across the state and across the country. They work with local businesses to big names like Walmart, and it doesn’t look like things will be slowing down any time soon. Kudos to Brad Dean Jr. on your leadership of a great local company – after my visit, I’m sure that your dad must be proud.
Valentine’s Day came a few days late at the Providence VA Medical Center, where I participated in the Valentines for Veterans program, giving me a chance to spread some cheer at the hospital and connect with the brave men and women who serve our nation.
Valentines for Veterans is a partnership between the Providence VA and area schools, with local students creating handmade Valentine’s Day cards to be distributed by local community leaders. I was pleased to be joined during my visit by Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee and a familiar face to Rhode Island veterans, Brigadier General Christopher Callahan, the adjutant general of the Rhode Island National Guard. Dr. Susan MacKenzie, the Medical Center Director, was kind enough to show our group around, introducing us to veterans and giving us updates on operations at the Medical Center as we went.
The Providence VA Medical Center is really the center of veterans’ services in Rhode Island, so I appreciate the opportunity to visit whenever I can. I need to know about the care provided, and resources available, for those who serve, both so I can be a better advocate and also so I can help spread the word on services that our veterans should be taking advantage of.
I am so proud of the quality of constituent services that my staff provides, and we have a caseworker, Ryan, who is dedicated solely to helping veterans. Ryan, who is a veteran himself, was on hand for the visit, and I know he will take the experience back to the office where we can continue to improve upon the ways in which we reach out to and serve veterans.
Double the Seniors
I love spending time with constituents in informal settings, particularly seniors, because you are guaranteed to get honest opinions and a lot of great ideas. I try to visit a different senior center every couple of months to connect with this group of constituents, and I was fortunate to have time in my schedule for back-to-back visits, two days in a row. My visits to the Westerly and Scituate Senior Centers did not disappoint on the honesty or ideas front, and I’m so grateful to the staff, and members, at both facilities for letting me come by during lunchtime to say hello and hear what is on their minds.
Meeting of the Minds
My advisory committee meetings are one of my favorite activities, because it’s a rare chance to have a group of community leaders in the same place, at the same time, to talk about the important issues that are impacting their specific field of work. And when the cross-section is as impressive as it is for my Arts and Culture Advisory Committee, and the members are as lively, it makes for an exceptional discussion.
We had a really fantastic turnout at our third meeting, with more than 30 of the leading minds in Rhode Island’s creative community on hand. We had a great meeting space, too, thanks to the Department of Administration, who hosted this time around. Our conversation touched upon several topics, including how to better promote diversity in the arts and the importance of robust investments in arts and culture. The arts impact so many other facets of our state. They are a critical piece of a well-rounded education, and serve as an economic driver for tourism and other industries. Art shapes how we see the world, and creativity influences how we interact and solve problems. By investing in the arts, we are investing in Rhode Island.
Life is Like a Box of Chocolates
Tucked into an unassuming building in an industrial park in Westerly, Hauser Chocolatier has brought the decadent tradition of Swiss chocolate to Rhode Island. Ruedi Hauser, Sr. and his wife, Lucille, brought both their passion and skill for chocolate-making from their native Switzerland and opened a pastry shop in Connecticut in 1973. Five years later, they expanded with a catering company and a cooking school. Chocolates were a piece of the operation, but it wasn’t until 1985 that chocolate became their exclusive business.
Luckily for Rhode Islanders, it wasn’t long after that when the Hauser family packed up and moved to the Ocean State. It was the appeal of the ocean and the opportunity for sailing that brought them here, but for Rudi Hauser, Jr., now the owner and a master chocolatier in his own right, he can’t imagine being anywhere else.
As a family-owned business, Hauser is built on tradition. They use the same methods that make Swiss chocolate world-renowned, and all of the finishing touches, from frosting to nuts, are done by hand. It’s so interesting, then, to see those old-fashioned techniques combined with new technologies in their factory, located directly behind the storefront. Old and new come together in their operation, and the result is a more efficient process but an equally-delicious product.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was the one who invited me to visit Hauser Chocolatier, as his family has been purchasing their signature chocolate lace for years. I’m so glad he invited me to tag along, partially because I got to tour a fantastic business and meet with their team…and partially because it meant trying local chocolate. Next time you’re in Westerly, you must check it out!
Under the Sea
With a nickname like “the Ocean State,” it’s not surprising that Rhode Island attracts students and professionals who are interested in researching and working with marine life. The University of Rhode Island seized upon our coastal assets more than 50 years ago when they established the Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO), but the school has continued to evolve. The school recently launched a new Master’s degree program with tracks specializing in fisheries, coastal systems and ocean technology and data – fields of study that are useful not only for research and marine biology, but also for aquaculture and Rhode Island’s food economy.
The GSO at URI is home to more than 50 faculty and research scientists, charged with overseeing more than 300 research projects and more than $25 million in annual research support. At the center of their research programming is the 185-foot research ship, RV Endeavor. Also on its list of bragging rights is Bob Ballard, an oceanography professor and URI graduate who is best known for his role in discovering the Titanic. The Titanic. I think it’s safe to say that oceanographers don’t pursue this field of study for the fame, but if there’s anyone in the industry who possesses something of a celebrity status, it would be Bob. I can imagine that GSO students are amazed at Bob’s resume and long list of achievements; I certainly am.
When we think about the future of Rhode Island, preserving our coastline and protecting marine life are challenges that we must prioritize. The coast and our waterways are part of the character and the economy of our state, and it is good to know that some of the best and brightest future oceanographers, researchers and scientists have a training ground and tremendous resource in our backyard at the Graduate School of Oceanography.
A Taxing Issue
When I look back on my high school and college experiences, I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from dedicated educators at high-performing institutions.
But as I graduated and set out on my own, I found that there were gaps in my abilities; practical abilities that were required for living independently, like balancing a checkbook, making a budget, or filing my taxes. For me, and for so many people my age, it was trial by fire. I learned through experience and with some much-needed advice from my parents. Hindsight may be 20/20, but I think we can all agree that a well-rounded education should be applicable to real-life situations.
Rhode Island is on that track, and I couldn’t be happier.
Financial literacy programs empower young people to take responsibility for their futures and chart a path to success and independence. Financial literacy programs ensure that students today won’t be doing the same guesswork I did when paying my first round of bills. I’m so proud that Rhode Island is working hard to provide these programs with the help of partners like the Rhode Island Jump$tart Coalition and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, as well as educators, librarians, social service providers and financial institutions across the state. What started at select schools, like East Greenwich High School, where my friend Pat Page has been a central force in promoting financial education, is now spreading across the state.
At the Financial Capability Conference, hosted by Rhode Island College, public and private partners come together to build upon this momentum. I was thrilled to be there to offer my support at the conference, thanking the many people and organizations responsible for an increase in financial literacy for not only students, but Rhode Islanders of all ages. I will continue to support these efforts in every way I can, through legislation in Washington and through advocacy in Rhode Island.
Teaching financial literacy is more than just simple arithmetic. It involves judgement, planning, and a bit of healthy skepticism. It is a key component of building a well-informed community and a skill set that is useful – and, frankly, essential – at any age. I know I could’ve benefited from these skills as a young man, and it brings me comfort and pride knowing that the next generation of Rhode Islanders will be better prepared for the future.
Back to Back to Back
With the holidays over and a new year underway, my schedule is picking up speed and my weekends are filling up fast with events. I spent one Saturday afternoon on the road, hitting up four fantastic community events, each of which supported a different, but equally important cause.
I started the afternoon at the Rhode Island National Guard Winter Resource Fair, hosted by the Rhode Island Military Family Assistance Center. We have some incredible Rhode Islanders who serve our state and our country in uniform, and they deserve our full support. The resource fair brought together an array of services and programs that do just that – support our men and women in uniform. Financial, employment, energy and housing resources, to name a few, were all in one place, providing one-stop-shopping for veterans and active-duty servicemembers who may not otherwise be aware of the assistance that is available to them.
After a rewarding trip to the resource fair, I shifted my focus to education by delivering closing remarks at the Rhode Island FIRST Tech Challenge State Tournament at New England Institute of Technology. It’s a joy to attend these competitions each year, and to watch the FIRST program grow and build on the previous year’s successes. This year, 33 teams qualified for the finals, and I have no doubt that that number will continue to grow in the future, thanks in large part to the commitment of educators and industry partners who volunteer their time as judges, referees, software inspectors and coaches. They give up their weekends, evenings and holidays to make the competition a success and, in the process, they are inspiring a love of learning and passion for technology in the students who participate. My sincere hope is that in 10 years, when these students have forged their own paths into the future, launching tech-startups or making advancements in technology, I’ll be able to say ‘I knew them when.’
My evening ended with a pair of fundraisers that I am thrilled to support year after year. The Matty Fund raises epilepsy awareness, promotes patient safety, and provides resources for children and families affected by the disease. Epilepsy affects three million Americans including a special young man, the late Matty Siravo, whose parents created The Matty Fund in his honor. Matty suffered from epilepsy and his parents, Debra and Richard, know too well how scary and debilitating epilepsy can be. They want to make life easier for kids like Matty and parents like them, and I was proud to be by their side at the annual Snow Angel Ball fundraiser.
A wonderful Saturday was capped with a wonderful event – the 40th annual Meeting Street Telethon. I worked the phones to raise money for Meeting Street School, which supports children of all abilities through hands-on, individualized attention. I have had the privilege of meeting so many exceptional educators and therapists at Meeting Street, and many classes of students who thrive under such excellent care. Seeing firsthand the work they are doing makes it easy to volunteer at the Telethon, and I’m happy to report that this year’s event raised $1,078,520. Meeting Street School really is a great place, and I’m so glad I had the chance to play my small part!
A Taxing Issue
Preparing and filing your taxes can be a daunting and stressful process and, unfortunately, millions of dollars in tax credits and breaks are left on the table each year because taxpayers assume they are ineligible. In actuality, there are many resources out there to help Rhode Islanders maximize their tax returns, and I was proud to join the Rhode Island Community Action Association (RICAA) to promote some of those important programs.
We all want to make sure that Rhode Island families get back every dollar they deserve, and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program is one way to do that. VITA and other tax assistance programs help taxpayers navigate the maze of filing their returns. These specialists are certified by the IRS and have extensive knowledge about the available tax credits, many of which have been expanded in recent years.
I was proud to join my delegation colleagues in voting to renew and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which will continue to help working families recoup thousands of dollars from the IRS for crucial living expenses. By making this tax credit permanent, along with the Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit, we have provided added certainty to the finances of Rhode Island households.
Thanks again to RICAA, to the VITA volunteers and to all the community and financial agencies dedicated to simplifying the tax filing process. I recognize that tax season can be daunting, but I encourage Rhode Islanders to remember the resources that will help you get your return processed quickly and accurately. You’ve earned it!
Members of my advisory committees provide invaluable counsel that helps shape my work in Washington and in Rhode Island. I appreciate every opportunity to meet with them and hear about the work they’re doing, and the challenges and opportunities they face in their areas of expertise.
My Seniors Advisory Committee is made up of a diverse group of leaders who all have an impact on and a stake in the well-being of Rhode Island seniors. They serve on the front lines, advocating on behalf of the elderly in our state. And while their specialties vary, I have heard consistently that providing safe, affordable, accessible housing for our aging population remains a significant challenge.
My members know this more than anyone, but I was glad that I could help facilitate a conversation about this critical issue with the agencies responsible for overseeing public housing for seniors – the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Rhode Island Housing. I am so grateful that HUD and Rhode Island Housing were able to send representatives to our meeting, and Nancy Smith Greer, Claribel Shavers, Christine Keshura, William Morales, Christine Smith and Nancy Boyd were all very generous with their time as we peppered them with questions. Increasing access to safe and affordable housing for seniors is not a problem we can solve overnight, but it is a conversation we must continue to have and I, for one, am very proud to be involved with the agencies and advocates charged with ultimately finding our seniors the home they deserve.
Boost at the Boat
It seems like every month General Dynamics Electric Boat has a new announcement or exciting milestone to share.
And I’m not at all tired of hearing about it.
At the annual briefing, led by President Jeff Geiger, EB announced that it plans to increase its workforce by 4,000 by 2030. The lion’s share of those jobs will be coming to Rhode Island and Connecticut, which is great news for our economy. This year alone, they will hire another 300 at Quonset Point. I have long said that Rhode Islanders build the best submarines in the world, and with a stronger workforce being built at Quonset, that honor is sure to remain in our state. I am so proud of the work being done here to protect our national security, and as a member of the Congressional Submarine Caucus, I have to admit that it’s something I brag about quite frequently.
Looking into the future – a bright future for Electric Boat – my priority is making sure we have the workforce and infrastructure in place to support continued growth. Our state has been doubling down on education and training programs that prepare Rhode Islanders for these types of skilled careers, and my hope is that when Electric Boat puts out their “NOW HIRING” sign, there’s a long line of Rhode Islanders in the waiting room.
Meaning of Mentors
January is National Mentoring Month, a time when I try to reflect on the incredible influence mentors have had on my life. I am a better public servant because of the great mentors I have had, including the late Senator Claiborne Pell and the late Eleanor Slater, and former Warwick Mayors Joe Walsh and Frank Flaherty. They each helped to guide and encourage me in their own ways, and I am so grateful for their friendship and counsel.
At the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership’s Mentoring Month celebration, I met countless others who had similar stories to share. Without question, mentors make a difference.
Mentors are important to expose young people to the world of work and to help them build the skills necessary for career success. More than that, mentors also help to build soft skills and self-confidence: skills equally – if not more – necessary than the so-called “hard skills.” The most important work of a mentor is to help a young person achieve his or her full potential. I would not be where I am today without the help of my mentors, and I believe that everybody needs some help along the way.
Every young person deserves the opportunity to have a mentor who can challenge, inspire, and guide them in both their personal and professional lives. At a time when nine million young people across the United States, including tens-of-thousands in Rhode Island, are growing up without a mentor, it is critical that Rhode Islanders consider joining the mentoring movement.
Thankfully, we have the Mentoring Partnership and their team leading the way. I’m so thankful for Jo-Ann Schofield, Bob DiMuccio, Shameen Awan, Mario Hilario and all of the other people honored for their work to mentor young people and recruit mentors to the movement. Without their advocacy, and without the selfless contributions of mentors statewide, our young people would be at a disadvantage. I encourage everyone to consider becoming a mentor, because it is truly amazing what a difference an hour a week can make in the life of a young person.
The people of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Providence are some of the warmest, most welcoming in Rhode Island, and I can think of no better place to remember, honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was so glad to be back at the church, along with the Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission, on MLK Day in honor of a true American hero.
Reverend Carl Balark has created a strong community at Ebenezer Baptist, and his leadership in many ways embodies that of Dr. King. Dr. King once said that, “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the staircase.” Reverend Balark is always at the front of the line, leading by example, and showing faith in every step he takes. He was recognized during the celebration with the Living the Dream award, and I can think of no one more deserving.
If Dr. King were alive today, I think he would be amazed at the progress we have made in so many ways, to open up opportunities to minorities, to women, and to the LGBT community. But I think he would be deeply concerned, as am I, by the equality gap that remains. He fought hard to show the world that Black Lives Matter, and it is his legacy that inspires today’s advocates. Black lives do matter, and we owe it to Dr. King to finally realize his vision of equality and social justice.
Particularly concerning is the divisive rhetoric of politicians who prey on fear and distrust. That negativity has characterized this election cycle and grabbed too many headlines of late. What we need, now more than ever, is to build a unified nation. There is strength in unity, and the survival of our country’s values relies on it.
In times of trial, or fear, or social injustice, we need only call upon the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
We cannot let hate invade our hearts and our minds. Instead, I choose Dr. King’s path, and I know that sentiment is shared by everyone at Ebenezer Baptist and the MLK Commission.
A LEGO Up
I absolutely love the FIRST LEGO League and what their programming does for kids. It’s as simple as that. With more than 233,000 participants and 29,000 teams across 80 different countries, FIRST is empowering young people today and therefore inspiring the STEM leaders of tomorrow. It doesn’t hurt, either, that it was conceptualized by a dear friend and brilliant inventor, Dean Kamen, who holds more than 400 patents and created innovations such as the Segway, a robotic arm in development for wounded soldiers and, my personal favorite, the iBot wheelchair I use every day.
It is always a treat to attend the FIRST competition and to see so many young people excited about science and technology, especially when the competition attracts 300 students from Rhode Island alone. I was with those students for their Championship competition at Roger Williams University. The technical and problem-solving skills FIRST participants acquire can lead to careers in engineering, computer programming, architecture and design and so much more.
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 ensure that the United States remains a global leader in research and discovery.
Last month, I was pleased to join with my colleagues to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorizes several important educational programs. I was especially glad that this bill included a provision to help states increase participation in competitions that expose students to STEM through robotics and other technology competitions. In the case of FIRST, participants are laying the groundwork for perfecting the driverless car, creating fully-functional prosthetics, leading the next generation of 3-D printing, and breaking other technological barriers across the spectrum.
Those technologies will help countless lives, just like Dean’s iBot changed my life and opened new doors that I never thought possible. And who knows? Maybe the next big innovator will come from Rhode Island’s incredible FIRST LEGO League competitors. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me.
A River Runs Through It
In the historic flooding of March 2010, the Pawtuxet River overflowed its banks and, in the process, damaged buildings along the riverbank. The Anthony Mill tower and Concordia Fibers in Coventry were among the damaged properties, and the nearby bridge was washed out entirely. It was a challenging time for the town, and when I toured the damage in the wake of the storm, it was difficult to imagine the area could be restored to its former state.
Soon after, though, the Natural Resources Conservation Service was on the case, and I should have known then that the area was in good hands.
Together with the Town of Coventry, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, the engineering team at Fuss & O’Neill, and the construction team at Cardi Corporation, NRCS brought that section of the town back to life. I joined my partners in the Congressional delegation to fight for federal funding to repair the storm damage, and looking out at the riverbank now, I know that the team in Coventry used those funds well. This project restored damage caused by the floods and, just as important, it stabilized the riverbank to help prevent future flooding. The property looks beautiful, the historic buildings are restored and residents of Coventry can finally get back to normal. Congrats and thank you to everyone who saw this project over the finish line!
Growing in the Greenhouse
An exciting trend in Rhode Island and in the nationwide economy has been the emergence of incubators that help foster talent and give entrepreneurs the support they need to get their business ventures off the ground. I’ve been to several thriving incubators, and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse is among the best. They’re an incubator with a heart and a passion for positive social change.
I was excited to be with Social Enterprise Greenhouse and their CEO, Kelly Ramirez, for the kickoff of their 2016 Impact Accelerator. SEG is truly a unique place in Rhode Island. It provides a space for business leaders to network, share ideas, create jobs and improve our community. These companies are not just building their business, but building their communities as well. Through their efforts, nearly 60 Rhode Island businesses have been able to thrive, and more than 360 jobs have been created. These are impressive numbers, and I’m certain that this year, with this impressive class of cohorts, SEG will continue to build more success stories.
For six years now, the Social Enterprise Greenhouse has helped small businesses in Rhode Island get their start. Through mentors and peer coaching, the 11 ventures selected this year will be able to gain the knowledge, networks, and resources they need to truly make a difference. It’s fascinating to see the different ideas on display this year. Right here in Rhode Island, some wonderful innovators are coming up with ideas that will make both a profit and a difference: a website to encourage and reward shopping at locally-owned businesses, a service to connect local musicians and business owners, and leadership training for girls, are just a few examples of the companies in this year’s Accelerator program.
Congratulations to the 11 companies selected by SEG this year. I am excited to see where you go from here. While there will be challenges as you refine and develop your business, the tools and skills you learn as part of the SEG Accelerator will serve you well, and I know they will likewise serve our community.
Information (Technology) is Power
The demand for trained professionals in information technologies is overwhelming, and it will continue to grow over the next decade. Highlighting the need and empowering students to pursue these careers is important, and I applaud the Rhode Island Department of Education for hosting their annual IT Fair at Bryant University. There was a good crowd of students on hand, and I commend them, as well, for taking a proactive interest in their futures.
Particularly impressive at the RIDE IT Fair is the variety of companies and industry professionals that participate and lead workshops. These organizations represent a broad range of fields and opportunities. From the Rhode Island State Police to high-tech software outfits, IT is a vital component in every sector of our economy.
Tech support skills are critical thinking skills that help to build rigorous, disciplined thought and analysis. The language we use for IT tasks is taken from medicine for a reason. IT professionals must assess the symptoms of a “patient,” diagnose the ailment and take corrective action. IT workers even conduct preventative checkups and inoculate their charges against viruses. The same attributes we prize in the medical mind – grace under pressure, detailed knowledge of system functions and faults – are the bread and butter of the IT community. The methodical analysis that IT professionals excel at can be applied to a wide range of business functions.
Learning programming languages, like learning any other language, also expands an individual’s career options. And the participants of the RIDE IT fair will hopefully experience that first hand. We live in an era of unprecedented discovery and innovation, and if we capitalize on these opportunities, there will be no limit to what we can all accomplish.
Part of the Family
My office has been fortunate to have many wonderful, hardworking interns over the years. It was great to have so many of them come back to celebrate the holidays and give an update on what they’ve been up to! In this group of Team Langevin alumni, we have world travelers who have studied from Hungary and Germany to Switzerland, students pursuing their Master’s degrees, young people ready to enter the world of work and many former interns who are volunteering their time to support wonderful, worthy causes. It was so nice to see them all, and I look forward to keeping in touch to hear how they’re making a mark on Rhode Island!
A Healthcentric Focus
Health care is an important business in the Ocean State – as an employment sector, as an economic driver and as an industry that impacts quality of life for all Rhode Islanders. We must always push forward and strive for excellence in health care quality, affordability and accessibility, and that’s exactly what Healthcentric Advisors is all about. A nationally recognized health care quality improvement advisory firm, Healthcentric works with government agencies, educational institutions, health care providers and more to analyze challenges and develop individualized solutions so that consumers have access to the best possible care.
The end user – in this case, the patient or care recipient – is always at the center of Healthcentric’s process.
This was my first visit to Healthcentric, and I was very impressed by their presentation explaining the ‘who, what and why’ of their operation. From data analysis to quality improvement to making care transitions as smooth as possible, the Healthcentric team puts patients first. With every client and every project, they ask the simple question: How can we improve health care in this setting? It’s a question I know doctors, nurses and all Rhode Island health care providers are concerned with, and Healthcentric is a resource that helps them tackle that question head on.
Supportive Living in Johnston
Set on 30 acres in Johnston, Briarcliffe Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation facility boasts a beautiful campus, but inside is where the important work is done. With 122 beds and a designated memory care program for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, Briarcliffe provides individualized care and is a 5-Star, Award-Winning skilled nursing center. They have nurses on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the list of services provided on-site runs the gamut from physical, speech, and occupational therapy to dental and vision services, and pain management.
There are a lot of social activities for residents to partake in, as well, including exercise opportunities, shopping trips, music programs and movie nights. Beauty and barber services are also offered on-site, as are weekly worship services.
I was very impressed by the facility, and by its owner and president, Akshay Talwar. Akshay has dedicated his career to delivering quality long-term care, and his resume includes a long list of professional affiliations, such as board member of the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island Chapter and member of the American College of Health Care Administrators. I appreciated Akshay taking the time to show me around, along with Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and former Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy. It was an informative tour and I really enjoyed meeting so many of the Briarcliffe nurses and staff members. Thanks to the Briarcliffe team for showing off your facility, and thanks for all you do to help Rhode Island seniors age with dignity.
A New Generation
It is so important for young people to be engaged in government. They are going to inherit the challenges and opportunities we face today, so I am always glad when I see students getting a head start and making the choice to get involved.
Generation Citizen is an organization that ignites that spark, and I was proud to join them at the Rhode Island State House for their Civics Day celebration.
Public service is a calling, and I hope that many of the Generation Citizen participants of today will follow their passions toward such a career. The obstacles our nation faces are ever- changing, but we will always need smart, dedicated, passionate citizens in positions of leadership. No matter your political leanings, this country, this state and our community need to hear all of these voices. Whether or not the Generation Citizen students pursue a career in public service, there are many ways they can be involved in the policies and issues that affect all of us. Our system doesn’t merely allow for citizen participation – it demands it. We must remain engaged for our political process to work; and this doesn’t just mean voting every other year. Civic engagement involves everything from writing your representatives and taking part in town hall meetings to community volunteering and grassroots organizing.
It may be a cliché, but it bears repeating: democracy is not a spectator sport. Decisions are made by those who show up, and I am confident that with the foundation that Generation Citizen has laid, these students will continue to be active in the political process for the rest of their lives.
The Lunch with Langevin initiative – a series of quarterly public forums where I can speak with constituents one-on-one – has become something I really look forward to on the schedule. Word has spread that the format is open and constituents can truly ask me whatever they want. From Scituate to Westerly – and to Burrillville, this time around – I’ve met with constituents who have shared stories about education or health care issues, and asked me my positions on national security or tax reform. We’ve been able to help solve their problems, and offer our support as they navigate the process of working with federal agencies. Thanks so much to everyone who came to this most recent Lunch with Langevin, held at Serio’s Pizzarama in the Pascoag village of Burrillville. It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm Saturday at the height of the holiday shopping season, so I really appreciate everyone taking the time to stop in and say hello. Stay tuned on the website and my social media platforms for updates on the next Lunch with Langevin!
Embracing New Business
It is always a pleasure to be in Wickford, but especially during the holidays, when the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce and its member businesses really pull out all the stops. The Festival of Lights is a four-day event that everyone in town looks forward to, and it’s just another reason to patronize the phenomenal local businesses.
I got a taste of that holiday spirit at the ribbon cutting celebration for Embrace Home Loans.
It isn’t your typical Wickford storefront, but the team at Embrace Home Loans is eager to be a part of the community and is off to a great start. They rolled out the red carpet for the Festival, offering refreshments and blaring holiday music for passersby.
Embrace Home Loans employs more than 300 people in Rhode Island and hundreds more across the country, and I’m so proud to have them headquartered here. I’m confident that the highly-visible Wickford office will continue to raise the profile of their operation and help spur further growth in the Embrace family.
Most importantly, it will be an introduction to a brand that has helped so many people get into the home of their dreams. Embrace makes home ownership possible for families in Rhode Island and nationwide, and I’m grateful to have them in our community. Congratulations on the new location!
Foray into Toray
Sales of $19 billion annually across 127 facilities in 18 countries and a network of more than 36,000 employees. The at-a-glance business figures of Toray Industries, Inc. are impressive, to say the least, and many Rhode Islanders have no idea that an important branch of the company is based right here in Quonset Business Park. The local offices employ more than 600 people, making Toray a major employer in our state.
Toray Plastics was founded in 1985 and the North Kingstown division manufactures a variety of polyester and polypropylene films – 188 million pounds of film annually – such as those used for food packaging. The company has a good-sized footprint on the Quonset campus, and I appreciated the opportunity to tour the facilities and learn more about this business, which was recently awarded a grant from the Real Jobs RI program. In addition to their commitment to employee training and workforce development, what I was particularly struck by is the business’s focus on research and development. Toray Plastics dedicates 15 percent of their workforce to R&D, ensuring the company stays on the forefront of innovation in their industry. Innovation is key across the board for Toray, as they have long implemented smart business practices to improve efficiency and green initiatives that save energy and money. They run a solar farm on the North Kingstown campus, a zero-landfill program and extensive recycling efforts, and they prioritize water and energy conservation. That kind of approach has kept them competitive and successful, and I hope will keep Toray in Rhode Island for many years to come.