Why We’re Still in a Providence State of Mind

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We can count on Bisnow to shine a light on great things happening in Rhode Island. Last year, the group’s “New England Presents” series included a panel called “Investing in Rhode Island.” This year, Bisnow hosted “Providence State of the Market,” which brought together an incredible mix of representatives from the public and private sectors for two panels that talked about many aspects of Rhode Island’s economic turnaround.

Laurie White. Courtesy Photo.

For the first panel, “Providence on the Rise,” Rhode Island’s secretary of commerce, Stefan Pryor, joined Bonnie Nickerson, director, Department of Planning and Developing for the city of Providence, and Christine West, principal at Kite Architects, while Alden Anderson Jr., senior vice president at CBRE and chairman of the GPCC board, moderated.

This session focused on how Providence has been successfully engineering the transformation of its commercial real estate landscape. The panel talked about the city’s exciting new developments, projects like the Wexford Innovation Center and others that are coming to fruition on the land that was formerly I-195. They also discussed plans surrounding GE Digital, Infosys and Trade Area Systems — just three of the 30 companies that have recently landed or expanded in Rhode Island.

Another hot topic: Rhode Island’s emphasis on innovation — our small state has an outsized presence in the innovation ecosystem. It’s a rich place for tech transfer because the state actively cultivates creativity. We see that with RICC’s Innovation Voucher program, which allows companies with fewer than 500 employees to receive grants of up to $50,000 for R&D assistance from a local university, research center or medical center. There are Industry Cluster Grants that encourage companies to work together to solve problems, exchange ideas and develop talent. And last but certainly not least, there’s the Innovation Campus program, being created in partnership with the University of Rhode Island.

When talking about regional economy, Secretary Pryor revealed that Rhode Island is working closely with other states on energy — particularly wind energy. As home to the country’s first wind farm, the state is at the forefront of future-forward energy developments and strategies. The clear advantage: partnering with other states that are considering innovative clean-energy technologies.

The panelists agreed that the progress in Providence is overlaid on a vibrant and diverse city, making for a dynamic place to live and work — which makes it perfect for today’s young professionals. And it also makes a perfect tie-in to the second panel, titled “Providence as a Live, Work, Play Destination.” The session included Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Cornish Associates Managing Partner Buff Chace, Vision Properties President Rick Shaffer, ZDS Managing Principal Eric Zuena, M&T Realty Capital Corporation VP/Managing Director Daniel Kerner, with BOND Brothers Director Bo Koloski serving as moderator.

The discussion centered on the city’s dense and walkable urban fabric. Mayor Elorza has a lot to be proud of in Providence, including its rich and vibrant arts and culture scene. Residents have a passion for the city and all it has to offer—such as exhibitions on display at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum and activities put together by the WaterFire arts organization.

Providence is exceptional in its ability to work collaboratively with developers to get projects done. In that vein, Mayor Elorza told us that in his view the public sector’s role is teammate to private industry, as well as creator of a culture that encourages more private-sector investment. He mentioned a project that will be officially announced in the next few weeks: a commercial development plan that will transform the banks of the Woonasquatucket River into a “river walk.” The Woonasquatucket Vision Plan encompasses a 20-year master plan to guide development along the river from Olneyville to the Providence Place Mall.

Right now, more than $500 million in construction is happening in Providence. Mayor Elorza said: “What we’re witnessing now is something we haven’t seen in a generation. … It’s the most construction we’ve seen in at least 30 years.”

It was exciting to hear such positive reports on so many fronts from the speakers at these panels. The energy around our state — and particularly the capital city — is really jumping, and we are looking to continue amping up the electricity of economic development here in Rhode Island.

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