At the invitation of Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli Hunt and the city’s House delegation, Speaker of the House Nicholas A. Mattiello took an invigorating tour of expanding city businesses and areas envisioned for revitalization earlier this week in order to get a better grasp on the community’s needs.
After seeing firsthand the renovations and investments being made in Woonsocket businesses earlier today, the speaker noted that he is very impressed with the steps the city has taken to accommodate business owners in an unstable economy.
“This is the first of many community tours I hope to take in order to fully understand the dynamics in each city and town,” Speaker Mattiello said. “I am 100 percent committed to one goal right now: making Rhode Island more business-friendly. From what I’ve seen today, we are on our way. However, being able to listen to industry leaders in this city has also provided me with an abundance of inspiration as to what the General Assembly can do to expedite that process. I made sure to take mental notes, not just about the state of local businesses, but also in terms of areas that indirectly affect our economy. Education, for instance, is definitely a factor in how we attract businesses to our state. So when the mayor comes to me talking about the need to help Woonsocket High School, I can remember my experience speaking with Woonsocket students today.
“If the state can continue its open dialogue with business owners and local officials, I firmly believe the General Assembly will have the acumen to help cultivate a better business environment. I genuinely look forward to more of these discussions with other municipal leaders across Rhode Island in the coming months – we are going to turn this state around.”
The three state representatives from Woonsocket – Representatives Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket), Michael A. Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) and Robert D. Phillips (D-Dist. 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland) – joined the speaker and the mayor Thursday morning.
The first stop was the Landmark Medical Center, which Prime Health Services – a California-based, for-profit company – recently purchased with the promise of renovations and improved services. Richard Charest, Landmark’s president, took the morning to apprise lawmakers of Prime Health Services’ five-year plan to invest nearly $50 million in capital improvements, new technology and equipment, as well as physician recruitment. It is the second largest employer in the city with 1,200 employees. As a for-profit company, the state’s northernmost hospital will be now pay property taxes to the city.
“It was nice for the speaker to come here and be able to engage with Mr. Charest about the exciting new developments at Landmark,” said Representative Phillips. “The hospital is in my district, so I’ve been keeping a close eye on developments there. But this is the first time we have been able to share this with the new speaker, which is certainly the first step toward rebuilding Woonsocket to its full potential. Rhode Island’s urban centers need the support of their community, state and federal officials in hard economic times. I think this newly forged relationship will bring us to the forefront of some very big things here in the city, and I’m excited to see it move forward.”
The group also toured The Plastics Group of America manufacturing facility, located in Representative Morin’s district. There, Speaker Mattiello was able to cull direct insight about the biggest issues facing local businesses, corporations and manufacturing companies. The Plastics Group manufactures, compounds, recycles and distributes a line of plastic pellets used in a handful of different markets, including the appliance, automotive, construction, lawn and garden, medical and personal care, and packaging industries. The company, which ships its products all over the country, recently invested $4 million in new equipment and infrastructure.
“The Plastics Group is a great example of the kind of company in Rhode Island that could benefit from changes to our tax structure and business regulations,” Representative Morin said. “The speaker seems very interested in the ins and outs of these types of businesses and what we can do as legislators to help. I am very proud of my city and I take its room for potential growth as a very big positive asset for us. That means there’s more room to build and be creative where it counts when it comes to luring businesses to the city and helping companies grow.”
Another stop along the way was World War II Veterans Memorial State Park, which is due to be renovated sometime after July of this year. The city plans to use $2.6 million in funds from the state Department of Environmental Management budget to revitalize the park with the addition of a splash park, which will serve as a big attraction for children on hot city days in the summer. Speaker Mattiello said he is dedicated to taking the time to finalize details of the park’s renovations; the only step remaining is to iron out details regarding future ownership and maintenance of the park. Tentative plans for the area include turning the park over from the state to the city, with a yearly stipend to assist Woonsocket in its maintenance. The park has long served as a site for the city’s Autumnfest, a longstanding tradition that includes a celebration of the fall season with a special parade, musical performances, street vendors, arts and crafts tents, and other community activities.
The rest of the itinerary included a visit to several of the city’s blighted properties under observation, Woonsocket City Hall and a tour of Main Street. The speaker’s last stop was at a Rotary Club luncheon at River Falls restaurant, where he was joined by House Majority Leader John J. DeSimone to talk about their plans for building a better business environment in Rhode Island. Representative Casey said he and his colleagues are prepared to discuss meaningful change, and he is pleased the speaker has taken a real interest in each local community.
“Obviously, it means a lot to the Woonsocket delegation that this was the speaker’s first stop in what I’m sure will be many visits to community leaders across Rhode Island,” Representative Casey said. “I think it’s important to note that our state is very diverse, and that some cities and towns are going to have a larger volume of needs and more complex issues to deal with. But I have faith that the speaker will be able to weigh the problems of each community and make some bold decisions in order to get our state to where it should be. On a separate note, I think I can say that the entire Woonsocket delegation was very proud to be able to showcase the city’s accomplishments and shed light on a lot of the positive things that are happening here.”