Rhode Island signed into law several pieces of legislation designed to make the state more friendly to business yesterday. The bills are the result of the Governor’s work with several groups focused on small business and economic development and are designed to address a range of issues including regulatory reform, workforce development and access to capital.
In August of 2009, Governor Carcieri created a Regulatory Review Task Force designed to identify the regulatory challenges faced by small business and make recommendations on how to improve or remove those challenges. Since then, the Governor’s Office has been working with 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 on a collaborative effort working toward this package of legislation. The changes include:
- allocation of up to $250,000 in the state budget towards creatng a single statewide web-based application system that will provide information and populate all of the necessary forms state agencies currently require of small businesses;
- updates to the notification timeline for license or occupational license applications with the Business Fast Start Office;
- a reduction in the approval timeline for fire alarm, smoke detection and carbon monoxide plans from 90 days to 15 days;
- naming a small business representative to the state Apprenticeship Council form current employer representatives;
- establishing a simultaneous review and approval process with all state agencies that have regulatory or permitting authority;
- the appointment of four small business representatives to the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation’s board of directors;
- establishing an Office of Regulatory Reform within the Economic Development Corporation to continue reviewing the state’s regulatory processes with the goal of streamlining the process for businesses of all sizes.
In addition to these measures, the state is pushing forward with several plans for workforce development which are designed to align workforce skills and training with current economic demand. The state’s General Assembly appropriated $240,000 for funding the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) to strengthen its workforce development efforts, and passed legislation to statutorily redefine the mission of CCRI to include workforce development. The new legislation will change the purpose of CCRI to a “workforce development center.”
Rhode Island has also increased business’ access to capital with landmark measures designed to make up for the gaps in bank funding currently faced by business. The Industrial Recreation Building Act (IRBA) which provides loan money for businesses was increased from $20 million to $60 million as a result of the still tight credit market. The IRBA has been previously funded up to $80 million but that ceiling was lowered in before the recession due to lack of demand.
The RIEDC will also back $125 million in loans through the Jobs Guaranty Program, a program designed to provide loans backed by the state for the creation of permanent full-time jobs that pay at least 250% of minimum wage and offer benefits. In conjunction with the Jobs Guaranty Program, RIEDC will also create a Procurement Assistance Program to make the state more competitive in winning federal, state and local government contracts.