The Rhode Island Small Business Economic Summit is lobbying on steroids. A bunch of powerful business interests get together and hammer out their wish list of legislative priorities. Invited elected officials are placed onstage and then speaker after speaker give them an earful about how they want the government to tax and regulate them less, and also prioritize their interests when it comes to government handouts.
The power of the event is obvious when you realize that Speaker of the House Nicolas Mattiello wouldn’t walk downstairs from his office to attend the Fighting Poverty with Faith Vigil at the Rhode Island State House but he would drive forty minutes in the snow to attend this event at Bryant University.
Friday was the 10th annual summit, organized by the US Small Business Administration and the Center for Women & Enterprise. They describe the summit as providing a “venue for state elected officials and small business owners to engage in a dialogue and exchange ideas about issues of importance to small business in Rhode Island. The goal is to formulate and present a small business advocacy package designed and approved by summit participants. This is a great opportunity to speak directly to legislative leaders who can facilitate a positive business climate.”
More than 175 small business owners, business leaders, and elected officials were expected to attend this year’s event, but early morning snowfall kept attendance down a bit. The event was held in Bryant University’s brand new, award-winning Academic Innovation Center. It was an impressive building. Many state elected officials attend the summit, including Joseph McNamara, Dominick Ruggerio, Leonidas Raptakis, Robert Lancia, Jean-Phillippe Barros, Deborah Ruggiero, Evan Shanley, to name a few.
There is a dark side to the Summit. Much of the language used by the speakers is based on debunked and dangerous economic ideology. Perhaps the worst example this year were some statements by North Smithfield Town Administrator Gary Ezovski. I write about that in detail here.
The brightest spot of the Summit was General Treasurer Seth Magaziner‘s defense of the social safety net, which came near the end of the day. Magaziner argued that a strong social safety net encourages entrepreneurial risk because it blunts the harm of failure. I write about that in detail here.
The day started off with a panel discussion featuring John Simmons, executive director of RIPEC (Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council), Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation and Dr. Len Lardaro, an economist from the University of Rhode Island, moderated by Susan Rittscher, president and CEO of the Center for Women and Enterprise.
The video of the entire morning’s proceedings can be viewed here:
After the panel discussions, attendees chose from among the seven breakout sessions. Here’s how the sessions were described by organizers:
- Economic Development: Covers issues including access to capital, small business assistance programs including counseling and training, developmental and business development issues facing small businesses. Mark Deion moderated.
- Healthcare: Works to create a cost effective, affordable healthcare system to small and medium size business. The committee works on issues to customized options including employee choice and defined contribution to help business owners stabilize their bottom line. Ralph Coppola moderated.
- Taxes & Budget: This committee covers all state tax issues with the goal of making the RI tax system more competitive regionally and nationally. We concentrate on improving incentives that would contribute to a more vibrant RI Small Business economy. We also address issues that affect the annual state budget. Grafton Willey moderated.
- Regulations: Committee identifies regulatory changes which can make Rhode Island an easier place to do business while sustaining public safety. State rules impacting labor management, construction/real estate development, energy, education and general cost of doing business are frequent areas of concern. Gary Ezovski moderated.
- Emerging Markets: Minority businesses are starting up at unprecedented rates, and we can expect these businesses to play a key role in the health of our economy. Minority business start-ups and increased spending power within minority communities are creating new business opportunities for companies to grow their market. This committee will focus on understanding cultural issues, how to market correctly to this growing demographic and gaining access to capital. Oscar Mejias and Sandra Cano moderated.
- Main Street: Focuses on local initiatives to revitalize Rhode Island’s “main streets” by leveraging local assets and making thoughtful re-development and economy-boosting investments. Miriam Ross moderated.
- Workforce Development: The subcommittee will focus on the skills gap needed to fulfill workplace requirements and the education and training employees need to become gainfully employed. These necessary skills will eliminate significant barriers to employment. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith and John Gregory moderated.
After the breakout sessions, moderators presented the results to the attending elected officials, including Governor Gina Raimondo, Lt. Governor Daniel MicKee, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello and State Senator Daniel DaPonte, chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Each moderator was to take only five minutes to present their committee’s recommendations, but most took much more time.
The event ended after short speeches from the assembled elected officials, again limited to five minutes in length and again, most took way more time than that, with Speaker Mattiello taking an extraordinary 21 minutes.
The video of the entire afternoon’s proceedings can be viewed here: