2013-10-24 / Opinion

Expanding Business Mindsets

There’s been quite a deal of news in recent weeks about potential ways to reinvigorate the state’s economy. In Providence, groups like the Rhode Island Foundation, Betaspring, Founders League, and RallyRI are providing equal parts of horsepower and inspiration to entrepreneurs and established businesses alike in the hopes of jumpstarting the state’s stubbornly sluggish economy.

On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Foundation, which has become a leader in this effort through its "Make it Happen" and "In Our Backyard" campaigns, announced a new round of fellowship grants for promising ideas to help break the grip of some of the state’s most intractable problems.

Too often, Newporters view the state’s mainland issues as being more removed than they actually are. Politics aside, Providence serves as the state’s front door and our most important market.

Last weekend, during a wild 72 hours, teams of aspiring business leaders gathered at Johnson & Wales University to take part in what’s known as “Startup Weekend,” a kind of entrepreneurial boot camp that happily embraces a baptism-by-fire methodology.

This bootstrapping energy is indeed infectious, and is part of what has come to define Providence as a city in recent years.

Of course, Newporters are known for bootstrapping as well, and one needn’t look further than Broadway or Lower Thames Street to see entrepreneurship on full display. However, might Newport also benefit from a kind of startup mentality?

In the main, the efforts being led upstate seem to be staying upstate. Certainly the Jewelry District in Providence has its urban charms, but wouldn’t a view of the Newport Bridge trump that of the Providence River?

In the coming months, the city will be embarking on its first comprehensive Charter review process since the economic downturn left us to face a “new economy.”

The recession no doubt left its mark on Aquidneck Island, but in many ways, we also seem to have emerged more quickly from the depths than some of our neighboring towns.

At City Hall, the budget is balanced and taxes are relatively low – even if housing prices remain out of reach for most first time home buyers. To that point, rents across the city are also healthy, which is a good sign of demand. And along the waterfront, boat brokers, marine techs, and yacht riggers have all rebounded significantly from their recession lows.

Newport has long benefited from a well-diversified economy. And while tourism remains a critical piece of our economy, there is much, much more to the island than day-trippers and vacationers. In the coming year, as planners work to refine the city’s Charter, let’s pay particular mind to putting in place those mechanisms that will not only encourage the kinds of businesses that we have in place, but also spur on a new crop of industries that are springing up in points further up the bay.

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