Governor Donald L. Carcieri joined Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, Senator Erin Lynch, Chair of the Senate Small Business Task Force, Representative Patricia Serpa, Chair of the House Committee on Small Business, RI Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC), RI Department of Labor and Training, the CCRI 21st Century Workforce Commission, the Governor's Regulatory Review Task Force, and business leaders at a ceremony to sign into law several pro-business bills that address regulatory reform, workforce development and access to capital.
The legislative package is the result of many months of work between the Governor's Office, the House Committee on Small Business, the Senate's Small Business Task Force, RI Economic Development Corporation, RI Department of Labor and Training, the CCRI 21st Century Workforce Commission, and the Governor's Regulatory Review Task Force, and is a coordinated approach to meeting several unified goals: making it easy to do business in Rhode Island; preparing our workforce for the jobs of today and tomorrow; and providing access to capital for businesses.
"Rhode Island's small businesses are the backbone of the state's economy. It's critical that we revamp our approach to economic development by focusing on three initiatives that are essential to the state's economic recovery: remove regulatory burdens that hamper business growth, align our workforce-development efforts with the emerging job market; and improve access to capital. This legislative session, through cooperation and collaboration, we have accomplished our goals."
"The Senate has been focused on making it easy to do business in Rhode Island and facilitating job growth," said President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed. "In addition to historic changes to the income tax structure, we have worked closely with the House and the Governor's office to cut red tape, improve the skills of the workforce and increase access to capital to improve Rhode Island's competitiveness. There were many partners in these efforts, but none more important than the small business community itself. We listened to the concerns the business community expressed to us, and we have responded with specific actions to address these concerns."
House Speaker Gordon D. Fox said, "This package of legislation is clearly indicative of the General Assembly's aggressive commitment to the small business community and to job creation in our state. The House and Senate have worked with the Governor to focus on how state government is best able to help create conditions for companies to prosper and grow. Making significant improvements in regulatory reform, access to capital and worker training will all assist our small businesses and enhance their opportunities for success."
"By expanding access to capital, improving workforce training and streamlining the regulatory process, Rhode Island is creating a framework that will accelerate business growth and move the state along the path to economic revitalization," said RIEDC Executive Director Keith Stokes. "I want to commend Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly for enacting key pieces of the RIEDC's 2010 Immediate Priorities Implementation Plan that make it easy to do business in Rhode Island by cutting government red tape and removing barriers to the success of small businesses in our state."
Regulatory Reform: Making it Easier to do Business in Rhode Island
In August 2009, Governor Carcieri created his Regulatory Review Task Force to identify state and local regulatory and permitting hurdles facing small businesses, and to make recommendations to improve the regulatory process. In April 2010, Governor Carcieri joined the General Assembly leadership at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Business Expo to unveil the regulatory reform legislative package that was shaped with the participation of the RIEDC, state agencies, the fire marshal's office, and the small business community.
"In these tough times, we must be focused on creating jobs and getting the economy moving again. Our master application will not only make it easier for start-ups to do business in Rhode Island, it will help change the perception that our state is not business friendly," said Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis.
Senator Erin P. Lynch, Chairwoman of the Senate Task Force on Small Business Growth and Development, said, "The Senate Task Force worked to break down barriers so that state and local government departments and agencies can better assist the small businesses that make up 96.5 percent of the employers in our state. We took action to remove bureaucratic hurdles in response to the testimony we received from small business owners and entrepreneurs. Combined with actions we have taken to enhance the skills of the workforce and improve access to capital -- both critical concerns identified by the small business community in addition to cutting red tape -- we have made real progress towards making it easy to do business in Rhode Island. We remain committed to continuing to help small businesses in Rhode Island."
House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Patricia Serpa, shared those thoughts. "The House Small Business Committee worked closely with small business owners and leaders of the various chambers of commerce to identify the regulations and policies which have historically impeded their ability to establish business in a timely manner and to grow and expand, with the ultimate goal of putting more Rhode Islanders to work. These initiatives that were developed, in
cooperation with the Senate and the Governor's office, are the result of listening to their concerns and addressing the regulatory barriers they identified."
S-2843, Senator Elizabeth Crowley Senate Resolution supporting electronic statewide master application system, as proposed by Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis. This resolution declares that the Rhode Island regulatory structure must be reformed to make it easy to do business in Rhode Island. It supports funding of up to $250,000 for the establishment of a web-based system to eliminate repetitive processes by using a single, electronic front-page system to obtain information and populate all necessary forms and applications to satisfy various state agencies' regulatory requirements. The funding was included in the state budget.
S-2844A & H 8100A, Senator Joshua Miller and Representative Frank Ferri This legislation provides that any applicant for a license or occupational license identified by the Business Fast-Start Office shall be notified of the status of their application within 60 days of filing, and notified again should no determination be made after another 30 days have transpired.
S-2845B & H8101aA, Senator Erin Lynch and Representative Patricia Serpa This legislation provides that fire alarm, smoke detection and carbon monoxide plans would have to be approved or denied within 15 days, instead of the current 90 days. To ensure that the fire code is enforced consistently, all assistant and deputy fire marshals would be required to participate in standardized national training and certification as determined by the state fire marshal. Approval of plans and construction of some buildings could be expedited, with the approval of the State Fire Marshal, if prepared and supervised by a professional engineer or architect. All other inspections and approvals would be conducted within timeframes to be established by the State Fire Marshal, not to exceed 90 days.
S2846 & H8102, Senator Erin Lynch and Representative Kenneth Vaudreuil This legislation requires the Director of the Department of Labor and Training to name a small business representative to the state Apprenticeship Council from among the current employer representatives.
S2849A & H8104A, Senator James C. Sheehan and Representative Mary Ann Shallcross Smith This legislation allows state agencies with regulatory or permitting authority over a business to establish a process for simultaneous review and approval with one or more state agencies. The legislation is designed to limit the delay for businesses waiting for one step to finish before moving on to the next step when there is no causal or safety relationship between the two steps. Businesses opting for simultaneous review may not recover the fees associated with the review if the business does not win approval.
S2850A & H7460, Senate Majority Leader Daniel P. Connors and Representative Patricia Serpa This legislation provides that the Governor shall appoint representatives of small business to four of the 12 seats on the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation's board of directors. This legislation is a result of the Small Business Administration's 2010 legislative recommendations.
S2851A & H8105A, Senator Walter S. Felag, Jr. and Representative Peter Martin This legislation establishes the Office of Regulatory Reform within the EDC, to review Rhode Island's regulatory processes and permitting procedures for businesses in an effort to further improve them. Each municipality would be granted the authority to appoint a liaison responsible for coordinating with the Office of Regulatory Reform. The Office will publish an annual report on the regulatory processes of state and municipal agencies and permitting authorities for the purpose of: encouraging agencies to improve procedures and reduce paperwork burdens impacting small business; making recommendations for simplification of regulatory processes; and making proposals to any agency for consideration of amendment or repeal of existing rules or procedures which may be obsolete, harmful or burdensome. The Office of Regulatory Reform will have the authority to intervene in regulatory or permitting matters before state agencies and municipal boards, commissions, agencies and subdivisions for the purpose of assuring efficient and consistent implementation of rules and regulations in order to foster the creation and retention of jobs in Rhode Island.
Also in April, Governor Carcieri, along with Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva Weed, released the CCRI 21st Century Workforce Commission's report Community College of Rhode Island: Building a 21st Century Workforce. The report outlined the Commission's recommendations for strengthening CCRI's position as a critical resource to educate workers for high-wage jobs in the state's 21st century knowledge economy.
The CCRI 21st Century Workforce Commission was approved by Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly in 2008. The Commission was chaired by Armeather Gibbs, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the United Way of Rhode Island, and was comprised of both public and private representatives.
"CCRI provides a pathway to opportunity for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who seek to further their education or develop job-related skills, and it is a critical asset to businesses in need of trained, educated workers with a variety of skill sets. This legislation will help position our state and its citizens to better compete in the 21st century economy, and ensure that student skill levels meet employer needs as we move forward," continued Carcieri.
"In these difficult economic times, it is so important for all of us in Rhode Island to work together on issues such as economic and workforce development. CCRI has played and continues to play a significant role in our state's workforce development efforts, and the community college is most appreciative of the recognition and focus that have been afforded to its contributions in this area," said Ray M. DiPasquale, acting commissioner of higher education and president of CCRI.
"It is critical that Rhode Island's workforce development strategies take their lead from Rhode Island businesses. The career pathway model outlined by the CCRI 21st Century Commission targets our state's high-growth industries and bases curricula on real employer insight. This alignment of business, education and government can create a powerful engine for economic recovery and growth," said Sandra Powell, Director for the RI Department of Labor and Training.
As a result of the recommendations in the report, the General Assembly appropriated $240,000 for funding for CCRI to strengthen its workforce development efforts, and legislation to statutorily redefine the mission of CCRI to include workforce development.
S2823 & H8181, Senator James E. Doyle, II and Representative Joy Hearn This legislation changes the statutory purpose of CCRI. The new language defines CCRI as "a workforce development center," with a chief purpose "to offer all students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for intellectual, professional and personal growth by providing an array of academic, career and lifelong learning programs, while contributing to Rhode Island's economic development and the needs of the region's workforce."
S2836 & H8220, Senator Paul Fogarty and Representative Scott Slater This legislation requires the state's Human Resources Investment Council to establish and oversee a Career Pathways System for the purpose of increasing the skill level of Rhode Island workers in alignment with industry needs.
Access to Capital In the 2010 legislative session, the General Assembly supported two critically important programs to provide greater access to capital for businesses. First, the Industrial Recreation Building Act (IRBA) was funded at $60 million. IRBA allows the state to guarantee up to $60 million in loans to help companies get the credit they need from financial institutions for expansion proposals. For years, the limit was set at $80 million, but in 2008 the General Assembly lowered the limit to $20 million due to a lack of demand.
"Due to the national recession and credit market collapse, lenders have tightened the flow of credit to small businesses. Increasing the IRBA ceiling and the creation of the Jobs Guaranty Program helps our small businesses expand and generate new jobs," continued Carcieri.
S2923A & H8158, Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Daniel DaPonte and House Committee on Finance Chairman Steven Costantino The Jobs Guaranty Program allows the RIEDC to back a total of $125 million in loans sought by businesses in those sectors. The loans would come from lending institutions, not the state, but the state would agree to repay the bank if the company were to default. The guarantees would be linked to the creation of permanent, full-time jobs that pay at least 250 percent of minimum wage and offer industry-comparable benefits. The act is expected to generate at least 400 jobs.
The legislation also includes the creation of the Procurement Assistance Program within RIEDC to assist Rhode Island businesses in procuring federal, state and local government contracts. That program would run initiatives aimed at matching Rhode Island companies with opportunities to win government contracts, and provide guidance and training for Rhode Island companies in how they can successfully bid for federal, state and local contracts.