The Joint Economic Development Committee (JEDC) was reconstituted this legislative session to promote and encourage the preservation, expansion and sound development of new and existing industry, business, commerce, agriculture, tourism and recreational facilities in the state. We have met on the progress of many topics of importance to the growth of jobs in the state, including monitoring regulatory reform initiatives, which the General Assembly has passed in recent years, and workforce development initiatives. Recently, the JEDC met to hear witnesses speak to potential growth and employment opportunities for Rhode Island companies through product exports abroad.
Testifying at a recent hearing of the JEDC, the CEO of a local company remarked that his customers in Japan view the “Made in the USA” label as a sign of quality. Made in America means something again, and that is great to hear. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of manufacturing in America are premature. Exports represent an important indicator of this sector’s success, and we have been pleased to learn during the committee’s hearings that the export market is strong, there is potential for additional growth and that growth in exports translates into growth in jobs at home.
Exports are strong, representing 31 percent of the total economic growth over the past 22 years, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. In Rhode Island, exports grew by 53 percent over the past two years, from $1.9 billion in 2009 to $2.3 billion in 2011. What’s more, the return on investment from a state perspective is huge, with $40 in increased exports generated for each dollar invested in trade programs, according to the John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University (The Chafee Center works with small businesses to provide guidance in entering foreign markets and exporting.).
Exports are a critical and growing part of our economy, and it is vital that we continue to work together to cultivate ideas and build upon these successes. Particularly striking was a discussion we had regarding “in-sourcing,” or bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. [and Rhode Island] from overseas. At our recent committee hearing, we heard from a number of Rhode Island-based companies that manufacture products in Rhode Island and successfully sell their products abroad. For example, renowned jewelry makers Alex and Ani recently gained entry into the largest department store group in Europe, and also have footholds in Japan and Israel. Another Rhode Island company named Hope Global manufactures many high-grade textile products, including high-quality shoelaces for Red Wing Boots. Its laces are shipped to countries such as Brazil, Korea, Japan and even China. Rhode Island-based Mearthane Products Group has grown its manufacturing team to meet demand for polyurethane products, including submarine gaskets, printer rollers and luggage wheels sent to end-product manufacturers across the globe. By expanding Rhode Island’s product exports abroad, we can increase the number of good-paying jobs for state residents here at home.
Rhode Island companies interested in expanding their business abroad are encouraged to contact the Chafee Center for a free consultation. (Phone: 401-232-6407 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Co-Chairmen Sen. James Sheehan and Rep. Donna Walsh of the Joint Committee on Economic Development.
Sen. Sheehan represents Senate District 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown; Rep. Walsh represents House District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly.