In a time when the state of the national and local economies has been constantly scrutinized, explored and reinvented, the Joint Committee on Economic Development in Rhode Island recently offered some perspective on one aspect of the economy with a strong impact in the state: exports.
Last week’s meeting was more than enlightening for at least one lawmaker, Rep. Lisa P. Tomasso (D-Dist. 29, Coventry, West Greenwich), who wants the state to focus more on expanding its exports and State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) practices.
“Rhode Island’s exports have increased by 53 percent in the last two years,” said Representative Tomasso, a member of the committee. “This is something we need to pay attention to. Exports are essential to economic growth, not only in the nation but here at home in Rhode Island. The value of exports per job in 2010 was $181,000. For every $1 billion in exports, there are about 5,000 new jobs being created.”
She referenced the Small Business Administration’s STEP program as the model for export development. Representatives from the John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University laid out the details of the program at Monday’s meeting of the joint committee, noting Rhode Island received $496,066 from October 2011 to September 2012 to implement the three-year pilot trade and export initiative. The re-application process begins now for year two of the STEP grant.
“Small business owners are sometimes unaware there are programs available for existing businesses,” the representative said. “The STEP program targets small businesses that are already well-established and helps them grow in a way that makes the best economical sense. Targeting our existing businesses is just as imperative to the success of our economic development as attracting new ones.”
The presentation on Monday also included the results from Rhode Island’s November 2011 trade mission to Israel, which resulted in more than $5.2 million in projected export sales, 28 new potential distributors and 146 potential jobs that may be created within the state’s manufacturing and service industries as a result of new exports.
“Those trade missions will continue in Japan, Panama and the Dominican Republic this year,” Representative Tomasso added. “Rhode Island business owners need to know that we are being proactive and aggressive in this stage of the recession. There’s room for improvement elsewhere in our fiscal landscape, but progress in building exports hasn’t been highlighted nearly enough in the big picture.”
The presentation, which included input from the trade partnership among Bryant University, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Small Business Administration, indicated the group is aiming to bolster the state’s funding to match federal and private monies currently invested in trade programs. Representative Tomasso said with a strong push for high quality products, talent management, marketing and good old-fashioned work ethic, the state’s economy can improve through more investment in these types of programs.
“If we make it our goal in Rhode Island to double our exports in five years, we have the power to create 7,500 jobs for Rhode Islanders,” she said. “Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that we not lose focus on our existing relationships with our Canadian neighbors and abroad. Developing relationships outside of Rhode Island through these programs will continue to benefit our long-term plans for a sustainable economy.”