The Hummel Report: Bringing Jobs to RI

rai3That bitterly cold first day of the Raimondo Administration in early January seems like a very long long time ago. In her first five months, Governor Gina Raimondo has crisscrossed the state with a focused message that we heard repeatedly during the campaign: bring jobs back to Rhode Island and make the state business-friendly.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Hummel Report, the governor talked about job development as being both a marathon and a sprint.

Jim Hummel: What’s been your biggest frustration?

Gina Raimondo: Biggest frustration? The pace. I always want everything to move faster.

JH: Isn’t that the private sector?

GR: Yes, definitely harder to get things done … slower in government. But it’s hard for me — every day I’m out and about; I go grocery shopping on Sundays and I meet people in the grocery store and people are struggling.

JH: They want to see the cranes in the sky?

GR: They want a job.

While the governor has made dozens of public appearances since taking office, many times with her new Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, it’s what’s happening out of the public’s view that might be more important.

Rai1GR: Before I came in here for this interview, I spent the morning on the phone with businesses. Every single week, Stefan and I make time to pick up the phone and call businesses. From the very biggest to the smallest. How are you doing? What can we do to get you to add jobs in Rhode Island? Are you finding the skilled workers you need? If not, what can we do to get you the skilled workers you need? And most people say, “You’re the first governor to call, thank you for reaching out.” A lot of people say to me, “I’m glad you called, we’re just planning a new big initiative. I don’t know if we’re going to keep it in Rhode Island, we may go someplace else.” To which I say, “Give me a chance to compete. I want every single job in Rhode Island, what do we have to do to get those jobs in Rhode Island?”

Raimondo signed an executive order on the same day she visited a manufacturing plant in Richmond. VIBCO is owned by Karl Wadensten, who has preached for nearly a decade about the benefits of the LEAN program, designed to eliminate waste, get rid of unnecessary steps, reduce wait and processing times, and realize greater efficiency as well as cost reductions.

The governor brought along her entire cabinet to get a first-hand look with the goal of using LEAN throughout state government.

We also sat down with the governor’s chief of staff, Stephen Neuman, who has worked for governors in Maryland and North Carolina. “I’m somebody who loves results and loves getting things done and believes that government can do important things to help people,” Neuman said in his first extended interview since coming to Rhode Island.

Raimondo told us during the transition that her pitch to potential cabinet members was to be part of a team that finally turns Rhode Island around. And that was a draw for Neuman, who was introduced to Raimondo through a mutual contact.

rai2Stephen Neuman: The two things existing together — the significant challenges the state faced, plus this tremendous new governor with all of her new background, experience and wherewithal. And so I thought those two things together presented really significant opportunities to get results.

JH: Every state has its own little nuance about how it works. What has been challenging in Rhode Island? When you got here what was the one thing that you said, “I can’t believe they do it this way?”

SN: The state has certainly been hit harder by the recession than lots of places and we’ve been slower to come out. And I think part of that has to do with not having significant economic development tools in the toolkit. And if you compare some of the economic development tools that exist in the other New England states, other states around the country, Rhode Island is behind.

Raimondo has appeared before the House Finance Committee to make a personal pitch for the initiatives in her budget that she says will pave the way for the job creation and economic development she hammered away at during the campaign, and now as governor.

Raimondo said she knows some of her proposals won’t make it through the legislative session — no governor’s budget, Republican or Democrat, survives intact. But the message to lawmakers about mission remains the same. “More than ever, the people of Rhode Island are counting on their government — leaders in the house, in the senate and the governor — to get together, to work together to get something done.”

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