Lessons of resiliency from Newport’s tourist-dependent economy

A native Rhode Islander, Laura H. DaLomba grew up in a foster home in Woonsocket.  Both of DaLomba’s birth parents struggled with health issues, so her mother’s best friend and husband became foster parents to her and her two brothers.

“They had three children of their own and they opened their home to us,” she said.  “They were our guardian angels.”  Her birth parents later passed away when she was a teenager.

DaLomba went on to earn a BS at the University of South Florida and a Master’s in Taxation from Bryant University.  She worked in Sarasota, Florida for two years before moving back to Rhode Island in 1997.  Upon her return, she found work at a Middletown accounting firm, Casten, Victor & Company, which would merge into KLR in 2005.
In 2011, tragedy encountered DaLomba’s life again when her husband Michael passed away as the result of a car accident.  She credits her friends and family with guiding her through such a difficult time.  It was not easy, but she persevered.  “Life does not always go as planned,” she said. “You must be prepared for its twists and turns.”

“I am now engaged to a wonderful man and about to become a step-mom to his three amazing children.”

AT KLR, DaLomba has emerged as an expert in Hospitality Services.  As a vital component of Rhode Island’s economy, she would like to see the state invest even more in an industry with a record of significant return on investment.  The potential for dramatic job growth is there – along with the subsequent tax revenues.  

WHAT COUNTS: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue the field of accounting?  Have you always enjoyed working with numbers?  

Laura DaLomba:  Initially, I wanted to be an athletic trainer, but after taking a first aid class my first semester of college, I realized that a medical profession was not for me.  I then switched to accounting because I liked math.  After three years in college, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be an accountant.  So, I took a year off and worked as an administrative assistant in a small business in Sarasota, Florida.  While there, I learned how to apply my accounting education to real world situations and found it very interesting.  After a year in Sarasota, I went back to school, finished my degree and did a tax season internship at a local public accounting firm.  Before the internship was over, the firm offered me a full-time position and I was hooked.

WC: KLR has enjoyed consistent and remarkable growth over the years – even during times of economic stagnancy for the Rhode Island and national economies.  To what do you attribute the firm’s success?

DaLomba:  The leadership of the firm has always been forward-thinking and entrepreneurial.  KLR has never been content to rest on its laurels.  We have a strategic plan that is reviewed and updated each year and is shared with the entire firm, from the shareholders to the interns.  Feedback is welcomed at every level.  Following that plan helped us stay focused on our goals even during the economic downturn.  We also understand that our people are our greatest asset.  KLR has been named one of the “Best Places to Work” (by Providence Business News) nine years in a row.  We work hard to retain our best and brightest and give them opportunities to grow within the firm.  Retention and continuity of staff is critical to providing the highest quality services to our clients.  We understand that to keep a happy client base, we also need a happy staff.

WC: Is there a key to a small business being resilient during times when the economy is floundering? 

DaLomba:  When the economy is floundering, businesses fail due to lack of cash flow.  I think much can be learned from Newport’s tourism-dependent economy.  The most successful businesses in Newport know what it takes to get through the winter months and plan accordingly.   Successful clients manage this problem in three ways:  1) Respond to consumers’ needs by providing high quality, low-margin products and services in order to keep the doors open and maintain volume; 2) Reduce costs without sacrificing quality, both for the business and the business owners’ personal life; 3) Manage cash flow by using savings, lines of credit and other financing options wisely during slow periods. 

WC: You head up KLR’s Hospitality Services Group.  What trends are you seeing for restaurants, hotels, private clubs, etc.?  What do they have to do to succeed these days?       

DaLomba:  Four common trends I’ve noticed recently are: going green, social media, technology and health care coverage.  Sustainability is a big key to attracting environmentally-conscious consumers.  Restaurants are using local farm-to-table products to help reduce their carbon footprint and hotels are increasingly implementing eco-friendly practices as well.  In terms of Social Media, we are living in a digital age and word of mouth can be exponential once it gets onto the web.  Businesses that want to market effectively must include an effective social media campaign.  More and more restaurants are offering frequent diner and loyalty rewards programs that require effective technology systems.  The data tracked under these systems can give business owners invaluable insight into what their customers want.  Lastly, all businesses are facing the health care issue.  Businesses must understand the complexities of the Affordable Care Act and how it impacts them.  Business owners should speak with health insurance consultants to make sure they are following its requirements.  

WC:  Should the hospitality and food services industry play an even greater role than it currently does in the state’s economy? 

DaLomba:  Definitely.  Tourism is the second leading industry in Rhode Island, yet the state only spends about $400,000 a year to promote tourism here.  We have stunning coastlines, a rich culinary heritage, beautiful architecture and so much more.  If the state invested more in marketing our treasures, it would increase tourism, which would add new jobs and create additional tax revenues.

WC: What do you find most rewarding about your job? 

DaLomba:  Working with a highly motivated team of intelligent and caring people that help clients problem-solve in all areas of business.  KLR is a firm with many resources beyond traditional tax and accounting services. We specialize in international tax guidance, wealth management services, executive recruiting, technology consulting and litigation support services.  When a client comes to me with a challenging problem, I have a great team of professionals who work with me to resolve it.

WC:  You can take one vacation outside of Rhode Island.  Where do you go? 

DaLomba:  I just spent two weeks in France in May and I can’t wait to go back.  There is still so much to see.  The food and wine were phenomenal!  I would like to compare it to Italy, so that may have to be the next trip.