Love for my home state is one of the things that motivated me to run for office. As a State Representative and later as Secretary of State, I became intimately familiar with the issues that are most important to Rhode Islanders. Since being elected to Congress, my constituents have continued to voice their concerns and priorities with strong conviction, and my goal is always to represent those interests the best I can in Washington. I rely on your feedback, and hope you will consider me a resource on the challenges we face as a state and as a nation.
Local Jobs and the RI Economy
Rhode Island was hit hard by the nation’s economic downturn, and the recovery remains slow. It is a frustrating time for many Rhode Islanders who continue to face unemployment, high housing costs and bills that keep stacking up. In 2010, I convened the Rhode Island Summit on the Economy to discuss strategies for closing the skills gap and strengthening the state’s workforce. That forum gave way to the Rhode Island Skilled Economy (RISE) tour and the Classroom to Career tour, both of which allowed me to identify best practices in the state’s skills and job training programs. I continue to share those approaches with employers and, most importantly Rhode Islanders in need of work. If we provide local applicants with the necessary training in high-demand skill sets, new and existing companies will be incentivized to set up shop or grow in the Ocean State, knowing that we have the right workforce to meet their demand. I was proud to garner the support of the Rhode Island School Counselor Association on legislation I introduced, the Counseling for Career Choice Act, which would ensure that students are aware of all of their options before graduation.
As we endeavor to strengthen the workforce, we must also decide, as a state, where we want to focus in the coming years. What industries have high growth potential? What will it take to attract them to our state? How can we provide the best opportunities for our residents? We must invest in growing industries, like information technology, engineering and advanced medical research, much of which is driving Providence’s Knowledge District. Developing a reputation for the state as a center for biotech, for example, will let companies in that industry know that we are open for business. So much emphasis has been put on how Rhode Island compares to other states in business friendliness. Let’s buck the rankings and put the state back on the right track. Let’s once again become a beacon of commerce that drives our national and global economy.
While development offers opportunity for economic growth, we must always grow responsibly and with the surrounding environment in mind. Tourism is one of the state’s biggest industries, and our beautiful beaches, scenic walking and bike paths and other natural attractions are among the many draws for visitors. I introduced the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act, which passed the House in June, to determine sections of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers that would be eligible for certain protections and federal funding as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
With 384 miles of tidal shoreline and 35 islands within its territorial waters, Rhode Island has a unique set of environmental concerns. The impacts of climate change, including more frequent and intense storms and rising sea levels, are potentially disastrous for our state, threatening the homes and businesses of so many in our coastal communities. The storms eventually wash out, but we are left with a constant reminder when visiting our beautiful beaches. Our coastline is eroding, and we cannot wait any longer to take action. In addition to the legislation I have supported to mitigate the effects of climate change, I am proud to be part of a concerted effort by the entire RI Congressional Delegation to bring in federal funds for such projects locally. I pushed for full relief for those impacted by Superstorm Sandy and am proud to have helped deliver millions of dollars for Sandy recovery, mitigation, restoration and planning.
Rhode Island is a leader in efforts to fight climate change, and I hope we will likewise be considered a leader in clean, renewable energy. Such energy projects, however, must be pursued with careful consideration to the communities they directly affect. Offshore wind, for example, offers enormous potential for producing domestic clean energy, putting Rhode Island at the forefront of an emerging sector in the renewable energy industry. Investing in clean energy will not only move us away from dependence on foreign oil, but will also create jobs in an industry with high growth potential. At the same time, our coastline and beaches are a precious resource and a boon for local economies, and they must be protected and preserved. I understand the concerns of residents in these potential host communities, and I am confident that an outcome can be reached that satisfies all interested parties.
The fishing and marine trades industries are very significant to the Ocean State’s economy. In 2011, Rhode Island fishermen landed more than 77 million pounds of fish, translating to more than $76 million in revenue; in total, the Rhode Island seafood industry generated almost $1 billion in sales impacts. But as climate change wreaks havoc on the ecosystem, those jobs are threatened. The temperature of Narragansett Bay has risen more than two degrees Farenheit, leading to dramatic changes in the fisheries population. When we talk about climate change, it isn’t just a theory – it has a real economic impact, especially on people whose livelihoods depend on a clean, stable environment. That’s why I have supported legislation that would require 20 percent of our nation’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, and I advocate for policies that reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
I understand the importance of the fishing community in our state, and I have introduced legislation to ensure its interests are better represented. The Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act would create two new spots for Rhode Island on the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC), which develops long-term fishery management plans designed to improve conditions of the fishery, and opportunities for the industry.
There is no overstating the power of infrastructure in fueling our economy. If we invest in our roads, bridges and transit, Rhode Island will become more attractive to new business. Rhode Islanders can, in turn, travel to and from work with ease, and reductions in traffic delays will make for happy commuters and more efficient business. We want residents and visitors to know that Rhode Island cares about the infrastructure that sustains our quality of life and commerce. High-quality, safe and sustainable infrastructure requires investment, and it should be a priority.
Our state took a big step forward in infrastructure improvements when I helped bring in a $10 million federal TIGER grant to replace the aging Providence Viaduct. Every day, 220,000 vehicles cross the Viaduct, one of the most heavily trafficked stretches of interstate on the East Coast. This grant will help replace the failing roadway, with reconstruction expected to be complete by November 2018. A reconstructed Providence Viaduct will improve access to state offices, tourist attractions and retail businesses. It will also put people to work. Approximately 530 jobs will be created or sustained through the Viaduct Replacement Project, many in the construction industry that continues to battle high unemployment.
As T.F. Green Airport continues to grow, more than $10 million in federal funds has flowed to our state since 2012 to support the Rhode Island Airport Corporation. Runway expansion and environmental mitigation have gone hand in hand, expanding capacity for the state’s major airport while reducing the impact on surrounding homes and businesses. In order for Rhode Island to stay competitive, we must make it easy to visit and do business here. T.F. Green often offers travelers a less expensive alternative, and with the completed InterLink hub that connects the airport to rental car facilities and MBTA commuter rail service, we’re on the right track.
Just as Green Airport, MBTA service and well-maintained roadways help to bring people into our state, our ports help to bring the products that contribute to a vibrant economy. ProvPort is the second busiest port in New England after Boston, and the Port at Quonset Davisville is likewise bustling as a foreign trade zone and epicenter for automobile imports. TIGER grants that I helped to secure directed $10.5 million to Port of Providence for new harbor cranes and another $22.3 million to Quonset Business Park for infrastructure upgrades. Both awards will increase port efficiency, and ultimately capacity.