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RI Senate OKs bill to create economic strategy

David Klepper, Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The Rhode Island Senate called for the creation of a long-term strategy for economic development Thursday, passing legislation designed to better focus the state's efforts to attract and retain businesses.

The bill, which passed unanimously, calls for any governor starting a new term to create a council to draft a long-term economic development plan.

Subsequent governors would be required to update or revise the plan. The legislation now moves to the House for consideration.

The plan would attempt to prevent haphazard decisions and ensure state leaders have a shared economic development roadmap to follow, according to Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-North Providence and the sponsor of the bill. He said on the Senate floor that he hopes the plan will build on the state's existing strengths while helping to coordinate efforts to grow new industries and businesses.

"You don't go into a big game without a game plan," he said in a statement. "Yet that is how the state has been operating on something much more important than any game. ... Efforts to build the state's economy and create jobs for Rhode Islanders will be more successful if they are cohesive rather than disjointed, and guided by vision rather than whim."

The bill is a key part of a legislative package from Senate leaders that they say is designed to boost the state's business climate and lift its struggling economy.

Other proposals would revive the state's historic redevelopment tax credit, help unemployed people train for new jobs, and create a new code of ethics, mission statement and name for the state's Economic Development Corp.

Rhode Island's unemployment rate for February was 9.4 percent, one of the highest rates in the nation. The state's economic development efforts were roundly criticized following the EDC's $75 million loan guarantee to 38 Studios, the now-bankrupt video game company started by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.

On Thursday the Senate also confirmed another of Gov. Lincoln Chafee's nominees for the EDC. The board's newest member is Jason Kelly, the vice president of Moran Shipping Agencies of Providence. Four nominees were approved last month.

The agency has struggled with vacancies following the collapse of 38 Studios, and Chafee has had to rebuild the board with new members.

Chafee announced an additional three nominees on Thursday: Judith Diaz, the director of community health for the Lifespan hospital chain; Elizabeth Francis, director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities; and Oscar Hebert, chairman and president of Atrion Networking Corp.

Earlier this week Chafee nominated Marcel Valois to be the agency's executive director. Valois served in the same role in the 1990s and is now vice president of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island.