Innovation Ecosystem

Informing the future economic agenda of Rhode Island

Initial findings presented by team from Brookings Institute

Courtesy of the Brookings Institute

The opening slide in the presentation by the Brookings Institute presented at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 27.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 11/2/15
The economic strategy analysis by The Brookings Institute is proceeding apace, with the initial findings presented at meetings last week attended by many of the state’s industry titans.
How can health innovation become recognized not just as a subset of the health care delivery system but as something that reflects the success of community-based initiatives? How can Rhode Island’s unique advantage – its relatively small size – be deployed and leveraged? How do investments in places, in people, and in communities redefine economic opportunities for Rhode Island, rather than investments in industries? How does the strength of Rhode Island’s diversity get reflected and accentuated as one of its positive attributes?
One of the key discussion points at the Brookings briefing was the value of Rhode Island as a special place. It would seem to point to the opportunity to create a quality of life index, perhaps as part of a larger innovation index, to be used as a benchmark against other states. Instead of worrying about how to redress the perception of a poor business climate, why not take a positive approach and promote the high quality of life – not to drive tourism, but to accentuate the positive values of Rhode Island?

PROVIDENCE – The public meeting held on the morning of Oct. 27 at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce headquarters was jam-packed with many of the titans of industry, where the Brookings Institute team of Bruce Katz and Mark Muro shared their initial findings to date from their efforts, in a slide show entitled, “Informing an Economic Agenda for Rhode Island.”

The last time ConvergenceRI had been there in such a similar crowded situation was in April when the Red Sox had unveiled their drawings for the ill-fated proposed stadium in downtown Providence.

The objective of the $1.5 million effort, paid for in large part by contributions from the van Beuren Foundation and The Rhode Island Foundation, is to develop an economic growth strategy, with a short list of interventions.

To accomplish this task, Brookings has partnered with Battelle and Monitor Deloitte to perform a rigorous industry cluster analysis.

In a nutshell, the plan is for the consultants to identify the best opportunities to expand industry in Rhode Island, assess the state’s positioning to grow these industries, and provide action steps for realizing that growth.

The lowdown
Here, in brief, is what was presented to the assembled crowd, in a 30-slide PowerPoint presentation.

Rhode Island’s location is what the consultants termed “an exceptionally strategic location,” at the center at what they described as a 33 million-person megalopolis, with a GDP of some $2.1 trillion. But the state needs to establish itself “as a pole in the corridor dominated by New York and Boston.”

From a statistical point of view, the Brookings team identified that Rhode Island growth’s capacity had deteriorated during the economic reset from the great recession, falling to the middle of the pack in New England.

They attributed that decline to the fact that Rhode Island’s core advanced industry base had shrunk.

“Erosion of the state’s advanced industry base and the failure to nurture new advanced industries has left the state adrift,” according to the initial findings shared.

The recommendation: “Rhode Island needs to build more resilient, future-oriented industry specializations to secure the next generation of prosperity.”

Growth areas
Seven high potential growth areas had emerged from the initial analysis. On the advanced industry side, there were five promising sectors identified:
• Biomedical Innovation
• Cyber and Data Analysis
• Maritime
• Advance Business Services
• Design, Materials and Custom Manufacturing

The only surprise was that biomedical innovation, a sector that had been left out by previous economic studies, now had achieved a more prominent position. The team had found that “there was a there there,” as one local president and CEO surmised.

On the opportunity side, there were two identified:
• Transportation, Distribution and Logistics
• Arts, Education and Tourism

Assets and barriers
The team provided details of each of the potential growth areas and their assets and barriers.

In the biomedical innovation sector, for instance, they cited “growing collaborations across universities and academic hospitals” and “strong regional driver in Boston/Cambridge” as assets.

In terms of barriers, the team identified “limited university-industry connections, the lack of bioscience wet lab space for emerging companies, and the lack of follow-on [to] lead venture financing.”

Under the heading of “why now,” the team noted the opportunity for bold industry-university partnerships, citing the Brown University Operational Plan for Excellence and its call for major new facilities, such as a shared, translational neuroscience research lab.

Similar analyses were done for all of the other potential growth areas.

The take-aways
There were a number of take-aways that the team presented:

• A proliferation of individually very small industries argues against a narrow focus when it comes to industry development.

• However, numerous interconnections across industries and clusters allow for the identification of promising areas of significant future growth potential.

• The numerous interconnections also provide the rationale for “platform” strategies that broadly address the fundamentals of industry growth across the state.

• There is work to be done, starting on the business climate.

• The numerous interconnections also provide the rationale for “platform” strategies that broadly address the fundamentals of industry growth across the state.

• Rhode Island’s innovation enterprise isn’t yielding enough market impact – although its flow of research dollars was strong.

• Rhode Island contends with uneven educational outcomes in its population.

• Economic activity in the state is relatively dispersed, and pipelines to dynamic Boston relatively weak, looking at the lack of train traffic available.

At that point, the team opened it up for discussion, with Laurie White from the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Aidan Petrie from Ximedica, and Russell Carey from Brown University, who provided feedback.

What’s missing?
The day after the presentation at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, ConvergenceRI hosted a conversation/convergence, “How To Build a Collaborative Strategy To Reduce Toxic Stress in Rhode Island.” The event, held at Rhode Island College, was equally jam-packed, but there were no crossovers; no one attending the briefing on Tuesday found their way to the event on Wednesday.

The dialogue on toxic stress brought together experts from numerous disciplines – neuroscientists, healthy housing advocates, pediatricians, epidemiologists, early childhood specialists, in a discussion moderated by news reporter Steve Klamkin.

Then, the panelists joined together with the 125 people in the audience in a continuing discussion.

As ConvergenceRI wrote in a story reporting in advance on the conference:

Imagine if you could design a program of health innovation in Rhode Island with the potential to improve the economy, better academic achievement in schools, reduce the cost of health care, reduce the amount of violence and sexual abuse, increase the value of housing, decrease the population in prison, improve health outcomes, strengthen families and neighborhoods, promote wellness and prevention, and slow the epidemic of substance abuse.

And, to have its progress measured by evidence-based research, with benchmarks to evaluate outcomes and results – and to measure the return-on-investment.

Rhode Island appears to be poised on the verge of developing just such a far-reaching program of health innovation – a cutting-edge, collaborative strategy to reduce toxic stress in children and young adults.

The effort places Rhode Island at the forefront of national leadership in changing the approach to health care innovation.

Investments in people and place as a function of equity, innovation
On Monday, Oct. 26, the evening before the briefing by the Brookings Institute team, ConvergenceRI had attended community forum in Warwick held by the Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Intervention to talk about stigma and the new strategic plan to address addiction and overdose in Rhode Island.

There was no overlap in attendance at any of the three events, held on consecutive days, save for ConvergenceRI.

Within the traditional industry analysis, what appears to be missing is the recognition of Rhode Island’s strategic and competitive advantage in designing programs that reflect investments in health innovation and health equity.

•  By 2018, most reimbursements in the state’s health care delivery system will be made through accountable care organizations.

•  Already, in 2015, more than one-third of Rhode Island residents receive primary care through patient-centered medical homes.

•  Eleven health equity zones have been established in Rhode Island as a community-based approach to health and wellness and prevention.

•  The first neighborhood health station is now emerging in Central Falls.

•  The first of its kind Rhode Island Nursing Institute Middle College, offering a new educational model that bridges high school and college, will graduate its third class next year.

In all of these initiatives, Rhode Island appears to be ahead of the curve, much more so than Massachusetts and other states. How does all this fit into the future economic equation? The health care delivery system, after all, is the largest private employer in Rhode Island, and it is an industry sector projected to be a leader in job creation.


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