RI Commerce Corporation offers business owners a helping hand

Prospective, existing business owners find answers at Commerce Corporation.

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation wants to see your business idea come to life and for your existing business to succeed and grow. The agency is dedicated to its mission to “stimulate economic growth in Rhode Island” by investing time, talent and the economic resources in businesses that call the Ocean State home – or may soon do so. 

Liz Tanner is the Commerce Corporation’s Executive Vice President of Client Services, and in that role she oversees the agency’s Business Navigation Center and Statewide Action Team (STAT). Tanner and her team never know who may call on them, but whether it is a high-tech start-up or a small manufacturer, the response is the same. It’s fast, informed and detailed.

“Every state is different and every state has its hang-ups,” said Tanner. “But, we do a lot of hand-holding through the process that I do not think a lot of other places do.”

Helping unexperienced entrepreneurs become established business owners is an area in which the Commerce Corporation excels. Among the most common inquiries are businesses owners seeking financing, questions regarding the availability of state incentives, advice on maneuvering through the varying regulations and permitting processes of the public sector, and networking opportunities. One advantage the Commerce Corporation has is the experience of its team of professionals.

“We have a lot of seasoned employees who know who to turn to at the other state agencies,” said Tanner.      

Since taking office, Governor Gina M. Raimondo has placed a high priority on job development and pro-business outreach. Just last month, the governor released the following statement on the report, “Rhode Island Innovates: A Competitive Strategy for the Ocean State” prepared by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

“This report is a deep, under-the-hood look at what has driven Rhode Island's economic decline – and how we can act with urgency to move our state forward,” said Governor Raimondo. “It’s clear we must tap into our strengths and come together to foster growth in high-skill, high-wage jobs to build the opportunities Rhode Islanders deserve. With an all-hands-on-deck effort, we can move Rhode Island to a strong and vibrant innovation economy.” 

As a critically important component of economic development, the Commerce Corporation presents itself as one of those strengths to which the governor alludes. 

To that end, Governor Raimondo and Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor recently launched cutting-edge incentives to spark the innovation economy in Rhode Island. They include, but are not limited to:

  • The Innovation Voucher program lets businesses unlock R&D capacity. Rhode Island companies with fewer than 500 employees can receive grants of up to $50,000 to fund R&D assistance from a Rhode Island university, research center or medical center. Vouchers can be redeemed for services to bridge expert technological gaps and to assist your business with an innovation project.
  • Innovation Network Matching Grants support programs that offer technical assistance, space on flexible terms, and/or access to capital to Rhode Island entrepreneurs in key industries such as life sciences, health care, food and agriculture, clean technology, energy efficiency, cyber security, and others as designated.
  • Industry Cluster Grants encourage companies in an industry sector to work together to solve problems, exchange ideas and develop talent. Grants are available to fund planning and organization-building for the cluster (Planning Grants) and to implement programs to strengthen the cluster in areas such as R&D, workforce development, technology transfer, and cluster marketing (Implementation Grants).

Innovation is an approach embraced by Tanner. It is a hallmark of today’s Commerce Corporation. The agency has rolled out several programs to creatively engage the business community in public-private partnerships. One of these programs is the Pathways in Technology Early College High School program (P-TECH), which creates partnerships among high schools, colleges, and employers, enabling students to earn associate's degrees and obtain first-in-line opportunities for jobs in Rhode Island. It’s a “win-win” that can lead to new products and programs, as well as employment opportunities for graduates.

The Commerce Corporation is taking bold steps to advance Governor Raimondo’s initiatives and alter the current perception of Rhode Island’s economy. For example, as a result of Governor Raimondo and the legislature’s leadership on pension and Medicaid reform, Rhode Island has reined in structural costs and flattened their trajectories, ensuring businesses a stable tax structure. The state has not raised its top personal income, corporate income or sales tax rates in a generation. Instead, it has recently lowered the top personal income tax rate (from 9.9 percent to 5.99 percent), as well as our top corporate tax rate (from 9 percent to 7 percent). Rhode Island’s top corporate tax rate is among the lowest in the Northeast. Rhode Island has also implemented major reforms of its regulatory system and business-facing agencies.

For Tanner and the folks at the Commerce Corporation, all of these are valuable to share with businesses as Rhode Island becomes an ideal place to grow.