Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, Rhode Island's Congressional delegation and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation (Commerce RI) today announced that Rhode Island has been awarded a $1.575-million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense's (DoD) Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) to develop a model for expanding the state's defense manufacturing base. The goal is to bring Rhode Island's design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities together to help manufacturers diversify their products and services so they can access new markets and grow the economy.
"Once again, congratulations to our Congressional delegation for bringing key funding to our state. Through this grant, Commerce RI will continue its ongoing effort to execute a strategy to promote and encourage high-tech research, design and manufacturing in Rhode Island," Governor Lincoln D. Chafee said. "Rhode Islanders are experiencing the payoff of our methodical and pragmatic approach to improving our economy through our investments in education, infrastructure and workforce development – the fundamentals of building a strong economy."
"Rhode Island has a strong defense and technology industry, but we need to constantly look ahead and ensure we're preparing for the future. This initiative will provide critical economic data and resources to help Rhode Island develop a road map to ensure local companies can adapt and transition to new opportunities," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a member of both the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees. "This federal funding will help guide workforce investments and allow the state to take a coordinated, analytical approach to strengthening our economy both now and in the future."
"Rhode Island's defense industry is a major economic asset for the region, with a wealth of innovative businesses and skilled workers," said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. "Aligning those resources will strengthen the industry even further, and help to create more jobs in our state. I congratulate Commerce RI on winning this federal support, and applaud its efforts to continue our state's legacy of industrial design and manufacturing."
Commerce RI drafted and submitted the proposal and will administer the grant as well as provide nearly $179,000 in in-kind contributions as part of the agency's proposal.
"The defense industry is a crucial sector of the Rhode Island economy, and this program will go far in supporting defense-manufacturing companies and helping them to grow further," said Congressman Jim Langevin. "This collaborative approach to doing business will benefit all stakeholders, and could prove a model for other industries. I am particularly pleased to see that workforce development and training will be addressed through these funds, making our state an even more attractive place to grow or open a new business."
"Rhode Island's defense manufacturers are an important part of the local economy that support jobs and middle class families," said Congressman David Cicilline. "These federal funds will help Rhode Island plan to ensure that the state's advanced manufacturers continue to grow and are poised to diversify and take advantage of new economic opportunities."
"We are developing a model to bring design and engineering thinking together with defense manufacturers to open up new markets for their products and services," said Marcel A. Valois, executive director of Commerce RI. "By tapping into and fostering tight-knit networks of existing design and engineering talent, combined with the defense manufacturing capabilities in Rhode Island, we will have the opportunity to diversify and grow the defense manufacturing base throughout southern New England. This is about creating the conditions for businesses to thrive and promoting long-term economic health and prosperity in our state and region."
The grant is aimed at strengthening economic diversification for the state's defense industry and represents an initial step in the creation of STEAMengine, a center for industrial design and manufacturing in Rhode Island.
STEAMengine is a reference to Rhode Island's manufacturing legacy and the state's future in STEAM education and companies. STEAM refers to the opportunity for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics fields to reshape our businesses and to be the engine for economic growth.
While the business plan for STEAMengine is being finalized, the opportunity to focus on defense manufacturing companies through this funding provides a vital catalyst for this important project.
Beginning as a pilot with Rhode Island's defense industry, the DoD grant will help the state to develop a prototype for how a STEAMengine model could work to support existing Rhode Island manufacturers across industries as they develop and commercialize new products to meet demand in a rapidly evolving global market.
The goals of the DoD grant are to: 1) Develop a program that allows defense-manufacturing companies to pursue an accelerated program of market transformation through intensive use of industrial design, engineering and innovation. 2) Create the information and linkages with resources that will serve defense manufacturers and our communities in limiting the impact of defense-related spending cuts and identify new opportunities for economic diversification. The state expects this effort and its resulting deliverables to inform, strengthen and support local adjustment and diversification initiatives and to stimulate better cooperation between regional, statewide, and local adjustment, and diversification efforts in the wake of defense procurement reductions.
Additional partners, such as trade associations and colleges and universities, which provide direct services to manufacturers will play key roles in the various aspects of the implementation of the DoD grant. Some of these could include, the University of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island College, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), Southern New England Defense industry Alliance (SENEDIA), Rhode Island Manufacturer's Association, and Tech Collective. Additional partners will be identified as the program develops.
Along with seed funding from the Rhode Island Foundation, the state also received an Investing in Manufacturing Community Partnership (IMCP) planning grant in the fall of 2013. These funds enabled the state to begin to develop a plan for the creation of a center for industrial design and manufacturing. The DoD grant ensures that the effort to develop and establish STEAMengine in Rhode Island will continue to move forward as we work to create the conditions for businesses in all sectors to thrive and to improve the quality of life for our citizens by promoting the state's long-term economic health and prosperity.