The First 100 (Plus)
This week Jim Hummel sits down for a wide-ranging interview with Governor Gina Raimondo, as she offers an assessment of her first three months in office and some of the challenges that have come with it. Plus, her chief of staff, in his first extended broadcast interview since coming here from Maryland. Why Rhode Island and what does the state need to fix?
That bitterly cold first day of the Raimondo Administration seems like a very long long time ago.
Raimondo: ``Today’s a special day also for me. Today is my hundredth day in office…’’
In her first three months Governor Gina Raimondo has crisscrossed the state with a focused message that we heard repeatedly during the campaign - bringing jobs back to Rhode Island and making the state business-friendly.
Hummel: ``What has been your biggest challenge in the first hundred days?’’
Raimondo: ``Only one?’’
Hummel: ``Just one.’’
Raimondo: ``You know, I need to keep people positive. People are down in Rhode Island right now, and I don’t blame them a lot of people are out of work, cynical, it’s Rhode Island, can we do this? I need to get people to be confident and optimistic and positive and open to change. Because the first step to all of this is having an attitude and a belief that, yeah, we can do it.’’
In a wide-ranging interview last week with The Hummel Report the governor talked about job development as being both a marathon and a sprint.
Hummel: ``What’s been your biggest frustration in the first 100 days?’’
Raimondo: ``Biggest frustration, you know the pace. I always want everything to move faster.’’
Hummel: ``Isn’t that the private sector?’’
Raimondo: ``Yeah, definitely harder to get things done, slower in government, but it’s hard for me, every day I’m out and about, I go grocery shopping on Sundays and I meet people in the grocery store and people are struggling.’’
Hummel: ``They want to see the cranes in the sky?’’
Raimondo: ``They want a job they want a job.’’
While the governor has made dozens of public appearances since taking office, many times with her new Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, it’s what’s happening out of the public’s view that might be more important.
Raimondo: ``Before I came in here for this interview, I spent the morning on the phone with businesses. Every single week, I and Stefan make time to pick up the phone and call businesses. From the very biggest to the smallest. How are you doing, what can we do to get you to add jobs in RI are you finding the skilled workers you need? If not, what can we do to get you the skilled workers you need? Any regulations standing in your way? Are you having trouble with your permitting? One real focus that I have and Stefan has is just changing this perception that Rhode Island is a bad place to do business. So I want to be very proactive - I pick up the phone all the time and call businesses and so does Stefan.’’
Hummel: ``They take your call, right?’’
Raimondo: ``Everyone takes my call. And most people say you’re the first governor to call, thank you for reaching out. A lot of people say to me I’m glad you called, we’re just planning a new big initiative - I don’t know if we’re going to keep it in Rhode Island, we may go someplace else. To which I say give me a chance to compete. I want every single job in Rhode Island, what do you we have to do to get those jobs in Rhode Island?’’
Hummel: ``So shore up the base…’’
Hummel: ``As you do in politics.’’
Raimondo signed an executive order on the same day she visited a manufacturing plant in Richmond. VIBCO is owned by Karl Wadensten, who has preached for nearly a decade about the benefits of the LEAN program - designed to eliminate waste, get rid of unnecessary steps, reduce wait and processing times, and realize greater efficiency as well as cost reductions.
The governor brought along her entire cabinet to get a first-hand look - with the goal of using LEAN throughout state government.
Raimondo: ``It’s a private-sector initiative, used mostly in manufacturing and it’s all about making your operation more efficient, more effective - and also empowering workers. The whole philosophy behind lean is: if you want to make a process better, ask the person who’s doing it. The guy or woman who does that job all that day long, they’re going to tell you how to do that.’’
Hummel: ``Has that not been done in state government?’’
Raimondo: ``No it hasn’t. I did it as treasurer, a little bit as treasurer, but now as governor I want to bring it throughout state government. As the governor it drives me crazy when I hear that people wait on the phone for half an hour before they can be heard, or that there’s a backlog, or that it takes two hours to get your license at the DMV. People deserve better, we can do better. We have a $200 million deficit. I just can’t throw money at problems. I can’t. We don’t have the money, the taxpayers don’t have the money so I have to do more with less. And that’s what lean is about.’’
Hummel: ``So tell me, why Rhode Island?’’
Neuman: ``The main reason why Rhode Island is the opportunity to work for Governor Raimondo.’’
We also sat down with the governor’s chief of staff, Stephen Neuman, who has worked for governors in Maryland and North Carolina.
Neuman: ``I’m somebody who loves results and loves getting things done and believes that government can do important things to help people.’’
Raimondo told us during the transition that her pitch to potential cabinet members was to be part of a team that finally turns Rhode Island around. And that was a draw for Neumann, who was introduced to Raimondo through a mutual contact.
Neuman: ``The two things existing together: the significant challenges the state faced, plus this tremendous new governor with all of her new background, and experience and wherewithal. And so I thought those two things together presented really significant opportunities to get results.’’
Hummel: ``Every state has its own little nuance about how it works. What has been challenging in Rhode Island? When you got here what was the one thing that you said: `I can’t believe they do it this way?’
Neuman: ``The state has certainly been hit harder by the recession than lots of places and we’ve been slower to come out. And I think part of that has to do with not having significant economic development tools in the toolkit. And if you compare some of the economic development tools that exist in the other New England states, other states around the country, Rhode Island is behind.’’
Hummel: ``What is it that businesses are leery about when they come to RI? What is scaring businesses away right now?’’
Neuman: ``Well I think there’s no question that businesses have…there are some businesses around the country that have had a less-than-favorable view about doing business in Rhode Island, but I think that’s why the initiatives that the governor and leadership in General Assembly are working on are so important. Because what we want to do is eliminate that red tape, we want to make it easier for companies to invest here, we want to make it less expensive so that the economics work for a company to invest and put people to work in Rhode Island.’’
Last month Raimondo appeared before the House Finance Committee to make a personal pitch for the initiatives in her budget that she says will pave the way for the job creation and economic development she hammered away at during the campaign, and now as governor.
Raimondo: ``I need some money appropriated for investments. For example I want to start a school building authority, Our schools are falling apart.As the executive I’ll administer that program, but I need the legislature to work with me to appropriate the money. Jobs aren’t going to just fall out of the sky, we need to do something to make it happen. We need to make it cheaper and easier to do business in Rhode Island. We need to invest in our infrastructure, rebuild our roads, schools and bridges, that takes money. We need to provide tax incentives, to incentivize real estate development and job creation and we need to train people. Right now, right now in Rhode Island there are more than 10,000 job openings. Jobs that are posted right now and when I talk to employers they tekk me they’re frustrated they can’t find the skilled workers that they need. At the same time there are 30,000 people out of work, so we need to take action to take these 30,000 folks, get them trained, and get them matched up.’’
Raimondo said she knows some of her proposals won’t make it through the legislative session - no governor’s budget, Republican or Democrat, survives intact. But the message to lawmakers about mission remains the same.
Raimondo: More than ever, the people of Rhode Island are counting on their government leaders, in the House in the Senate, the governor, to get together, to work together to get something done.’’
At the State House, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.