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2014 March 31 - 12:00 am

RI Mulls Plans for Manufacturing Jobs

SMITHFIELD, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo would create so-called “innovation institutes” and tap into the Community College of Rhode Island to provide more workforce training under a plan to increase manufacturing jobs in a state with one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation.

The Democratic general treasurer said the state, a leader in the Industrial Revolution and a “powerhouse” in manufacturing, had lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent decades while its leaders failed to make a plan to adapt.

She did not place a dollar amount on her plan and did not say how many jobs she hoped to create, calling that premature.

One part of her plan would be to create innovation institutes focusing on areas in which the state already has strengths: food sciences, marine industries and health sciences. The institutes would be launched with the collaboration of universities and businesses and could be a place schools can develop new ideas for products and bring them to market.

She said little state money would be available for institutes. The state, she said, would bring the parties together and possibly provide land, such as a plot that has been freed up near downtown Providence by the relocation of Interstate 195.

She also wants CCRI to work more closely with manufacturers to provide training and to create a loan forgiveness program for students who agree to stay in Rhode Island, which she said would also be paid for in part by employers.

The state Senate president, meanwhile, said the so-called skills gap is a “serious and growing problem”’ that must be addressed as part of a push to improve the sagging Rhode Island economy.

Speaking at the Senate’s annual economic summit, President Teresa Paiva Weed said the lack of qualified workers hurts the economy and hinders efforts to lower an unemployment rate that has been among the highest in the U.S. for years.

Rhode Island’s January jobless rate was 9.2 percent. Its average 2013 unemployment rate of 9.5 percent was the second highest in the country, behind Nevada.

“The skills gap is a serious and growing problem that we need to address with decisive action,” Paiva Weed said at the Providence campus of the Community College of Rhode Island.

She cited Senate leaders’ “Rhode to Work” legislative plan, which calls for, among other things, more investment in job training programs and adult education, more internships and apprenticeships and better coordination of existing workforce training programs.

“We are working to remove roadblocks as workers seek to better their skills,” she said.

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