By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s 11 colleges and universities are combining forces to launch a new research group that will help state leaders understand what ails the local economy and what could help fix it.
The new College and University Research Collaborative was announced Tuesday by Gov. Lincoln Chafee during a news conference at the State House where he was joined by representatives from the schools and the president of the Rhode Island Foundation.
Chafee said the state benefits from having so many institutions of higher education within its borders. “We’ve very lucky in Rhode Island,” he said.
The private Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council think tank recommended that Chafee create an independent research group in its report on economic development, commissioned after the collapse of 38 Studios. It was also urged by participants at the foundation’s Make It Happen RI event last fall.
“All of them collaborating on research, on information, on data that can be shared and used objectively by policymakers is not only groundbreaking but could be a national model,” said Neil Steinberg, the foundation’s president and CEO.
The collaborative will be made up of a leadership team, a panel of policymakers from the governor’s office and the General Assembly, research fellows and administrative support staff, according to an outline released Tuesday by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island (AICU), which will oversee the collaborative.
The policy panel is expected to come up with a few major questions that Rhode Island officials need more information about, and then the research collaborative will find faculty members and other experts who can provide answers. The first project may be under way by March, AICU Rhode Island President Daniel Egan said.
“We think that having the colleges and universities use our faculty … to answer these questions will be profoundly important,” said former Congressman Ron Machtley, who is now president of Bryant University.
The research group has a $200,000 budget for its first year as a pilot program, with half the funding coming from the quasi-public R.I. Economic Development Corporation and the other half from the Rhode Island Foundation. Organizers said they hope to secure additional funding for a second year, and public forums will be held to coincide with major reports.
Also on hand for Tuesday’s announcement of the research collaborative was Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, who has clashed with Chafee in the past. But when a reporter asked whether they see each other as rivals or competitors, the pair jokingly put their arms around each other in front of the podium.
“We talked last week, we talked at The [Providence] Journal, and 90% of what we’re saying is the same thing,” Paiva Weed said. “I’m committed to working with the governor on behalf of the Senate.”
Chafee echoed her sentiments. “If you’re going to go forward, you’re better off with everybody pulling on the oars together, and sometimes it takes work,” the governor said. “It’s very, very important as we go forward with growing our economy that we work at working together.”
Paiva Weed, Steinberg and a number of reporters came downstairs to the 11 a.m. press conference with the colleges after attending an earlier one in the Senate lounge, where the Senate president released her own report and pledged to work on the economy. Steinberg said the timing was a good sign.
“If somebody told me a year ago we’d be going to two positive economic development-oriented press conferences in this building this morning, we’d all have kind of looked sideways,” he said. “Well, it’s happening and it’s provided by leadership.”
“We’re not as bad as any of the rankings say we are,” Steinberg added. “We know that. We just need to prove it.”
There will be more economic policy announcements in Rhode Island as the week goes on. Chafee is scheduled to release his proposed 2013-14 budget and make his annual State of the State speech on Wednesday night, and the House of Representatives will hold its own economic summit at Rhode Island College on Thursday.
Ted Nesi ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi
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