In the Press

A unique opportunity to change our economy (Op-Ed, Providence Journal)

Paolino Properties’ Managing Partner, Joseph R. Paolino, Jr., was featured in a recent op-ed published in The Providence Journal about ways to invest federal money into Rhode Island’s economy to help make it stronger for generations to come.

Read the story below:

Joseph R. Paolino Jr. is managing partner of Paolino Properties, served as mayor of Providence from 1984-1991 and was director of the Rhode Island Department of Economic Development from 1991-1994.

The past 18 months have tested our resolve like no other event we will likely experience in our lifetime. We have lost family members, friends and jobs. Many people have even lost their homes and their ability to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families. Front-line workers, teachers and parents have been challenged in ways that we could have never imagined.

But out of adversity comes a unique opportunity for Rhode Island: to change the trajectory of our economy for future generations. Currently, Rhode Island has $1.2 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. That doesn’t include the $500 million that local cities and towns have received. Or the funds that will be allocated to the state through the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and the Build Back Better Act (Reconciliation bill). That could amount to upwards of $3 billion; an infusion of money we may never again see in our lifetime.

Gov. Dan McKee and his administration have been taking the pulse of the public and organizations to get a good idea of how to spend the money. The Rhode Island Foundation, through the leadership of Neil Steinberg, has conducted thorough research to come up with a set of recommendations, which includes investing in housing, workforce development, behavioral health, and small businesses, to name a few areas.

What we need is to coordinate all programs together. Let’s look at what our state really needs and invest in them — things like high-speed rail, like they have in Europe and Asia, that will get us to Boston in 20 minutes and New York in 90 minutes and reduce emissions. This is a real possibility that we’ve talked about for decades and now have the opportunity to make it a reality. Let’s invest in green energy, life sciences, education, affordable housing, and big community projects like expanding access to sewers and municipal drinking water in more rural areas like Jamestown, Scituate and Burrillville, to name a few.

Making Rhode Island a better place to live and work for future generations starts with our children. An aquarium on the Providence waterfront and an art museum downtown are luxuries we can now make a reality. In urban districts that have underperforming schools, let’s alleviate some of the burden on educators by putting two teachers in a classroom to help children succeed. Not to mention the fact that our crumbling school buildings are in desperate need of repair.

We should be putting training programs in place to recruit more teachers, nurses, senior care workers, hospitality workers, police officers, firefighters, and tradesmen. Keeping college graduates in Rhode Island only helps our economy grow with fresh young minds ready to enter the workforce.

Further investment in the hospitality industry would be extremely beneficial for our state, an industry that generates significant state and local tax revenue in Rhode Island. And, we have an opportunity to coordinate with one of the best hospitality schools in the country by designing career pathways and programs tailored to Johnson & Wales University students and graduates.

No one should ever have to sleep outside. The homeless problem can be solved by providing people with mental-health services, job training and affordable housing so that people have beds to sleep in instead of the front steps of Providence City Hall.

Rhode Island is a small state, and the problems we face can be fixed.

My father used to say, “It doesn’t take brains to spend money, but it takes brains to invest it wisely.” We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to position Rhode Island to be an economic mecca and that is an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted. In 20 to 30 years, we want our children and grandchildren to say we got it right for them.

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