Rhode Island governor: How a small state made a big breakthrough in high tech job growth

Move over, Silicon Valley.
Move over, Silicon Valley.
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States with jobs in innovation and technology industries are more prosperous, both now and later. And the more states that invest in the advanced industries supersector and become prosperous, the more likely our country is to have an economy that works for everyone.

In a recent Brookings Institution report on the trends shaping America’s 50 advanced industries, advanced economies are extolled for creating long-term growth and remarkably high productivity in both people and businesses, for reducing racial, spatial, and income disparities, and ultimately for raising the standard of living. The future-focused jobs in these sectors pay almost double what jobs in other sectors pay, and for every new advanced industries job, 2.2 additional jobs are also created.

This same Brookings report examined the progress states are making to shift the scales in favor of advanced industries, looking at everything from the number of full-time workers to average pay in the sector. When it comes to advanced industries job growth, longtime tech strongholds California and New York continue to do relatively well, even as they are being overtaken by Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina, which have enjoyed advanced industry employment booms for many years now.

What came as a surprise to many was the way the numbers in the Northeast shifted to let Rhode Island through, so that this small state can now claim the highest advanced industries job growth rate in New England, even beating out neighboring Massachusetts. In fact, the only Northeastern state that rated higher than Rhode Island on this account was New York. From 2013 to 2015 our rate of growth in advanced industries jobs increased by 285%.

Rhode Island has a rich manufacturing and industrial history, but as with other states, the economic reset of the Great Recession left us adrift, and the erosion of our advanced industries talent base had become one of our most pressing problems. Research confirmed how far behind we had fallen. When I saw the research, I saw an opportunity.

To create a haven for advanced industries, we continued to cut taxes and eliminate dozens of unnecessary licenses that had been hindering business growth. We also introduced enticing economic development incentives and made record investments in education and workforce development so that, upon graduation, our students in both high school and college will be ready to fill the new positions we’re bringing to Rhode Island.

One of these, the Wavemaker Fellowship, helps put a stop to brain drain by giving recent graduates in STEAM industries assistance with their student loans if they stay or relocate here; another helps first-time homebuyers with a down payment. To prepare our children sooner rather than later, we’re also on a path to becoming the first state in the US to offer computer science in every school, K-12, thanks to a partnership with Microsoft.

These are steps that any state can take to build a competitive environment that attracts business and talent. Already we’re seeing results: GE recently announced it will plant a flag in Providence, bringing its growing Internet of Things division and hundreds of new jobs for Rhode Islanders.

And new tax credits led Greystone, a manufacturer of machined and plated products, to expand its operations in Lincoln, Rhode Island, rather than Virginia, where it was considering opening shop. Tax credits also informed the socially-minded online retailer Ivory Ella’s recent decision to leave Connecticut for Westerly, Rhode Island—and Trade Area Systems, a retail real-estate market intelligence company, is leaving Massachusetts and moving to Providence.

Not so long ago, our state was coming to terms with some harsh realities, but in the process of crafting an advanced economy that will work for all Rhode Islanders, we have found a path back. Now in the top third in our nation for advanced industries job growth, Rhode Island has rolled out a blueprint for other states that want to turn around their economies, shore up for long-run growth and productivity, and contribute to a shared prosperity.