Rhode Island Weaves Manufacturing Skill Set with High-Tech Hopes
Considered to be the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island continues its longstanding relationship with manufacturing to this day. But, as with all good relationships, it has evolved as Rhode Islanders have managed to parlay their textile manufacturing capabilities into a more-profitable skill set serving the life sciences industry. Concordia Medical (Warwick, RI), for example, has managed to transfer its capabilities from manufacturing silk yarn to producing specialty fiber-based medical implants and scaffolds.
Despite being the smallest state in the nation, Rhode Island has major growth potential in the medtech and life sciences sectors. Between 2002 and 2007, Rhode Island companies received 298 patents for surgical and medical instruments and 131 patents for other medical equipment. And being neighbors to one of the most influential medical device manufacturing hubs in the country probably doesn't hurt, either. After all, Rhode Island is just a short 45-minute drive from Boston and boasts similar access to valuable transportation infrastructure and Europe, which helps it to compete in the global market. Thanks to these advantages, Rhode Island's own lively life sciences sector is forecast to triple by 2014, according to the Milken Institute.
The state is working hard to achieve such growth in the wake of climbing unemployment rates that place Rhode Island second only to Michigan in joblessness. Employing more than 35,000 people in the state, however, the health and life sciences sectors, which include drug manufacturing, academic research, biomedical devices and textiles, and nanotechnology, serve as a beacon of hope for the eager and skilled workforce that resides in The Ocean State. According to the Department of Labor and Training, 65 companies in Rhode Island are involved with the manufacture of medical equipment and suppliers and employ an average of 1410 people.
Educating Rhode Island's residents for this workforce are a number of institutions of higher learning. Boasting the most college students per capita, Rhode Island is home to prestigious Brown University (Providence, RI) and the University of Rhode Island (URI; Kingston, RI), which just opened a multimillion-dollar Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences in January. And, to better serve the community's goals of high-tech growth, URI and the Community College of Rhode Island (Warwick, RI) have even incorporated degree programs that support biomanufacturing.
Also helping to generate activity in the life sciences sector is the Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC; Providence, RI), an academic-industrial board established in 2005. Although Rhode Islanders have reported a strain attributed to the state's high business taxes, STAC, in collaboration with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. (RIEDC; Providence, RI), is trying to help ease the burden through the creation of the Innovation Tax Credit. Launched in 2007, the tax credit is, in the council's words, "designed to attract and retain serial entrepreneurs and stimulate economic growth in high-wage, high-growth industries." One of the primary high-growth areas targeted by the organization is the health and life sciences sector. Additional RIEDC-sponsored credits and programs include a 10% tax credit on new R&D facilities and equipment; R&D sales tax exemptions; site-selection assistance and guidance on permit and regulatory issues; and R&D expense tax credits of up to 22.5%, which RIEDC says is the highest in the nation.