The economy and education are called RI’s biggest opportunities in statewide survey

Rhode Island Foundation releases results of survey of nearly 1,000 participants in series of community get-togethers across the state

 

PROVIDENCE, RI – The economy and education are among Rhode Island’s biggest opportunities, according to a statewide survey by the Rhode Island Foundation. The balance of the top five opportunities are the natural resources, the state’s sense of community and the state’s small size, according to surveys completed by nearly 1,000 participants in the Foundation’s Together RI initiative.

“Together RI’s goals were to find out, first-hand, about where residents see opportunities and challenges, and to create a neutral place to discuss topics that they think are critical to our common future,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.

Over the course of six weeks, the Foundation invited Rhode Islanders to share family-style meals and talk face-to-face at schools and community centers across the state. More than 1,700 pounds of baked ziti, 2,000 meatballs and 47 gallons of marinara sauce were served.

“These neighborly get-togethers gave folks a place to be heard, to listen, to reconnect and to engage in civic and civil dialogue at a time when they are more ‘connected’ via social media, yet more disconnected from each other personally than ever,” said Steinberg.

Many participants singled out the farming and fishing industries as ripe for economic expansion, particularly farmer’s markets and farm-to-table models of food delivery. Others cited tourism’s potential. “…tourism is a clean industry. We should promote it very aggressively,” one asserted.

A number of participants said Rhode Island should position itself as an incubator of business concepts that could go national. One participant said “Our problems are the nation’s problems. If we can come up with solutions, we can lead the way Our small size makes it doable.”  Others called for the state to focus on attracting medium-sized businesses and to diversify the economy through the promotion of “renewable energy and wind farm expansion.”

Many saw economic opportunities in partnership between sectors, such as high tech and STEM with tourism and design with the maritime industry. Some participants suggested developing medical and technical businesses in partnership with Rhode Island’s educational institutions.

Nearly 75 percent of the survey respondents reported they are now more likely to get involved in community issues after participating in Together RI and more than 72 percent said they better understand the issues their community faces. Ninety-nine percent reported meeting someone new.

“Participants of all ages had productive civic and civil dialogues at the proverbial kitchen table. There was definitely a desire for the opportunity to talk with each other and listen to each other,” said Steinberg.

Survey respondents said the state’s  top five strengths were its natural resources, small size, sense of community, particularly how well people seem to know each other; diversity and culture, and history and the arts, focusing on historical preservation and the wide range of performances that are available here. The five most cited challenges were social issues, such as the brain drain and the opioid crisis; government and politics, particularly taxes; transportation, programs and services, particularly the cost of health care; and elementary and secondary education.

Produced by the University of Rhode Island’s Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy, the full report is posted at https://web.uri.edu/ssirep/files/Together-RI.pdf.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $38 million and awarded $43 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2017. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit rifoundation.org.

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