FEATURE STORY: Rhode Island Is Big On The Future

Gov. Lincoln Chafee
Gov. Lincoln Chafee

By Jack Rogers
From the March/April 2012 issue

Like many small states, Rhode Island was hit hard by the Great Recession. Sandwiched in the middle of the Boston-New York axis, the Ocean State faces the dual challenge of laying the foundation for 21st century growth, while retaining and stabilizing its traditional industrial base. Gov. Lincoln Chafee is meeting that challenge by focusing on the building blocks of the new economy: education, transportation and the skillsets needed to lure emerging high-growth industries.

Since taking office last year, Gov. Chafee has led delegations of Rhode Island leaders—including representatives of business and higher education—on visits to Baltimore, Houston and Pittsburgh to tour the University of Maryland Medical Center & BioPark, the Texas Medical Center, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. These visits made clear to the delegation that the medical, research, and educational fields—the so-called “meds and eds”—are sectors primed for high growth.

Chafee has worked to maximize the opportunity to create a “med and ed” hub in the heart of Providence presented by the relocation of I-195, better known as the I-Way in the state’s capital.

“[The highway relocation] has given the city and state an historic opportunity to build on valuable, newly-opened land in the heart of the capital city and create quality jobs,” Gov. Chafee told Business Facilities in a recent interview.

In addition to the highway relocation, Brown University recently opened its new $45 million medical school, The Warren Alpert Medical School, in the heart of what is now known in Providence as the Knowledge District. Located about one mile away from the central campus, this was Brown’s first major teaching facility to be located off its College Hill site.  Housed in a 1928 converted jewelry factory, the four-story, 134,000-square-foot facility represents a catalytic moment for Rhode Island’s life-sciences industry. With the new medical school, the Knowledge District already is a thriving business hub that we will continue to build on as the development of the approximately 19 acres of I-195 land progresses.

The Knowledge District spans nearly 600 acres. More than 750 businesses already call downtown Providence home and they are surrounded by six world-class academic institutions and 530,000 square feet of active scientific and medical research space. The further development of the Knowledge District will encourage more academic-private sector partnerships. Also, from a redevelopment standpoint, the area will reconnect once-separated neighborhoods, strengthen Providence’s urban economic base and create an even more enjoyable community to live and work in.

Warwick Transit Hub Grows

Throughout history, economic growth has been tied to access to transportation. As a former mayor of Rhode Island’s second-largest city, Warwick, Gov. Chafee can attest to the value and potential of the city’s Station District. Anchored by T.F. Green Airport and the newly opened InterLink commuter rail station, it is a vital air, rail and auto transportation center-not just for Rhode Island, but for the region.

With a city-led master development plan in place, a planned runway expansion and an extension of commuter train service to southern Rhode Island, Chafee has made it a priority to work with the City of Warwick, area property owners and residents to capitalize on these transportation assets.

“Together, we will work with the private sector to develop and promote a mixed-use, transit-oriented business development and growth center in Warwick that is ideally located along the high-traffic I-95 Northeast corridor.,” the governor said.  “In addition to the master development plan, I commend the City of Warwick for also developing a streamlined permitting process and establishing zoning and land-use benefits to locate within the Warwick Station Development District.”

With office, hotel, residential and retail development opportunities, this project will serve as the gateway to Rhode Island and the rest of New England, connecting road traffic, commuter rail, and the T.F. Green Airport all in one central Rhode Island location, just a few minutes south of Providence.

Gov. Chafee recently held a series of community forums with small business owners in Pawtucket, West Warwick and Cranston. The governor has declared that 2013 will be “The Year of the Cities and Towns.”

“I have directed the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation to create programs for small businesses, entrepreneurs and urban-based companies. My administration, has now begun to deploy $13.1 million in federal grant funds to promote small businesses growth and help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality.”

Quonset Business Park Thrives

Quonset Business Park is one of Rhode Island’s biggest success stories. Quonset has grown into the premier business park in New England and one of the largest in the Northeast. It is home to more than 165 companies, employing approximately 8,800 people in a variety of industries.

With 43 parcels left for lease, the Quonset Development Corporation (QDC) is taking an innovative approach to fill the remaining acres still available—QDC’s “Site-Readiness” program, which will expedite the permitting process. The QDC has partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to pre-permit each parcel to meet environmental requirements. The QDC has pre-engineered the parcels to replicate variage usage scenarios, including a potential building footprint, parking layout, and storm drainage designs that are consistent with regulations set forth by the RIDEM and CRMC. A due diligence package for each parcel has been developed that includes a complete review of the property, including an environmental phase I review, geotechnical soils review and borings, utility availability and capacity analysis, concept site plans and permits, and a land title review.

The QDC and the Park’s host community, the Town of North Kingstown, have also adopted a single set of land use controls, known as the “Quonset Zone,” creating a predictable path to development approvals. Most new tenants can begin construction on their new site within 90 days of taking control.