EDC chief: Agency will earn its reputation back
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The new head of the economic development agency responsible for the failed investment in Curt Schilling's video game company says it will earn back its reputation and work to rebuild confidence in Rhode Island's economic recovery efforts.
"Sure, our reputation out there has been tarnished over 38 Studios, and it may be perceived that we're beleaguered, but we wake up every morning, we work hard and we work on programs and activities that make a difference," Marcel Valois, executive director of the Economic Development Corp., told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Valois said the agency, which is suing Schilling and some of its own former officials -- including Valois' predecessor -- over the $75 million loan guarantee approved for the company, has made strides.
"Rhode Islanders must look forward," he said. "We need to rebuild the confidence in Rhode Island and its institutions and set the base for new economic resurgence. We're up to the task."
Valois was confirmed in May as head of the quasi-public agency, after serving in the same role from 1995 to 1997. When he arrived, the agency was still smarting from the collapse of 38 Studios last year. The state is on the hook for some $90 million related to the deal.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who serves as chairman of the EDC board, replaced most of its members and has said he thinks the agency is headed in the right direction under Valois.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly voted to reorganize the way the state handles economic development, creating a new cabinet-level commerce secretary position in 2015, along with an economic development planning council and a council of economic advisers. It also voted to eventually rebrand the EDC as the Rhode Island Commerce Corp.
Under the direction of the board and Chafee, Valois says he's working on the nuts and bolts of economic development, reaching out to businesses to hear what they need to be successful, what obstacles are in the way and how the agency can help. The EDC is aiming to better use data to gauge the effectiveness of its efforts.
Valois wants to dispel the criticism that the agency picks "winners and losers" -- a charge amplified after it lured 38 Studios from Massachusetts -- and doesn't do enough to help existing businesses.
"We feel that we need to work with everybody in creating the conditions for all sectors to grow, and not put all our eggs in one basket, not chase after one industry sector over another," he said.
Valois said the EDC is working with the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce on a campaign launching in the coming months to boost Rhode Island's reputation as a place to do business.
"Whether you're an existing company or whether you're an out-of-state company looking to invest in the Northeast, we should be on the radar screen. And we haven't been for a long time," Valois said.
"I think we can make a substantial claim that we are as competitive as our Northeast neighbors," he added.
Valois said the loan program under which 38 Studios got its deal -- which was quashed by the legislature -- could have been used in different ways, with more safeguards, but that he understands why the legislature eliminated it. Calling capital "the lifeblood of business," he said the agency is looking into possibly instituting new financing programs, though he declined to be more specific.
Much of the work of economic development will take place in the trenches, according to Valois.
"You earn a new reputation by your actions, by your activities, by promoting a sense of confidence in your abilities to get things done," he said. "We'll earn that reputation back."