By Robert Bailey
Recent public events entitled ‘Newport As A 21st Century Technology City’ and ‘Newport as a Model of Urban Living” suggest that Newport may be awakening. If so,
This quaint museum of curios of wealth earned prior to sweeping federal regulations, could morph into a vibrant, cutting-edge, top 100, world class, contemporary city generating revenues triple the current figures (new wealth). Care-full actions of businesspeople and politicians over the next few months will show which of these alternate destinations will prevail.
First, Newport’s macro economic issues.
Missing is a business organization, a member of the US Chamber of Commerce rather than a member of American CofC Executives, to participate in national policy and advanced marketing to attract world-class business leaders.
Missing is a popularly elected, full-time, accountable Mayor to be the global face of the City—a “go to” guy/gal who gets things done.
Missing is a contemporary culture of collaborative grand initiatives. And,
Missing are the elements needed for the City—operating ad populum as Newport County’s ‘seat’—to guide island-wide economic self-determination.
Now, the opportunity.
Broaden the tax base. The direct and indirect benefits include better schools, a magnetic economy, greater direct local control.
Business (see CofC above) must reach out in a collaborative to well-paying industries including marine design, web design and Internet security, the biosciences. Heck, tiny Tel Aviv is a global player in diamond-cutting. That’s big business done in a room the size of a large closet.
Newport has a city manager form of government—good or bad, mediocre or great—and the State has its finger on every genuine economic driver. But, local self-determination of Newport’s economic destiny doesn’t need not be futile (even regarding such matters as altering the Visitors Center.)
Newport aka Rhode Island (in the State’s legal name) has an opportunity, and I believe a responsibility, to lead in the State House and the Northeast. It might lead in business, education, the arts and community innovation—around the world. The fans-o’-tourism-economics might delight from qualitative growth if Newport’s practical assets were applied in new ways, year-round.
Specifically, the City must demand and expect the following. From the State, integrated, but unencumbered, support of the local fiber optic network; from all government officials and employees, accountability for results; and from leadership, long term economic initiatives committed to investment in local energy and food industry, marine tech, water related processing, and other new technologies. (These steps must allow for the inevitable disappointment and pain that often accompanies meaningful success.)
Deterministic objectives require clarity, however.
Boat Captains, business owners, airplane pilots, and military leaders will tell you—a thousand opinions have negligible value versus credible decision-making.
Newport’s trenchant question then is, ‘Who’s driving the ship?’