Gov. Lincoln Chafee, seated far left, hosted a community forum for small businesses Tuesday morning at the Cumberland Public Library's Hayden Center. Joining him, from left, were Henry "Bud" Violet, of Ocean State Business Development Authority; Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee; and John Gregory, president/CEO, Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce (at the podium). Photo/Ernest A. Brown
CUMBERLAND â€“ Maria Rosa Takuma opened her contracting firm, Harmony Design and Construction, in Cumberland but has since relocated to Providence because there werenâ€™t as many programs for minority businesses in town than there were in the capital city.
â€śWe need your help, governor,â€ť Takuma said to Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who, along with the RI Economic Development Corp. (EDC), had brought two-dozen small business owners from the town together with representatives from a variety of state and federal agencies to the Hayden Library on Tuesday to let them know what kinds of help are available to help them operate or expand their businesses.
â€śWe need your help to bring money so our mayor can be able to offer more programs for us,â€ť she said. If there were more programs to help people repair and renovate their homes, she explained, that would mean more work for contractors and builders.
Another minority business owner, Alfonso Acevedo of American News En Espanol, wondered whether minority business owners looking for loan guarantees or other services are being crowded out â€śif the rich people and big businesses are destroying the credibility of the EDC, an apparent reference to the $75 million loan guarantee granted to former Red Sox star Curt Schilling for his ill-fated 38 Studios project.
â€śCertainly there is no discrimination in any of the programs,â€ť Chafee responded, â€śweâ€™re absolutely dedicated to that â€“ to make sure we are reaching out to everybody and itâ€™s a fair, level playing field. The more we can integrate English-speaking and Spanish-speaking businesses, that is good for our state.â€ť
Joining Chafee and a number of EDC officials at the early morning session were Charles Fogarty, director of the Department of Labor and Training; John Gregory, President of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce; Leslie Taito, director of the Office of Regulatory Reform; Mark Hayward, RI district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Henry â€śBudâ€ť Violet of the Ocean State Small Business Development Authority and Doug Jobling, regional director of the RI Small Business Development Center.
State Rep. Mia Ackerman used the forum to press for help for businesses in Cumberland and Lincoln who have been hurt by the sudden closing of the Manville Hill Road Bridge that connects the two communities.
Because of the lengthy bridge repairs, Ackerman said, â€śsome small businesses are suffering, some are on the brink of closing down, She wondered what type of emergency financial relief might be available to them to prevent them from having to shut their doors.
SBAâ€™s Hayward told Chafee â€śwe went through this with the (Conant Street) Pawtucket bridge. Unfortunately, this is not considered to be a natural disaster and would not be eligible under that. Perhaps we could get together with the RI Emergency Management Agency to see whether or not any economic injury is eligible under the disaster program.
He said the business owners should get with the RI Small Business Development Center.
Sean Esten, EDCâ€™s managing director of finance, urged affected businesses to meet with the EDC, â€śeach one is going to have a unique need in terms of how it is impacting their businesses. He suggested that one of EDCâ€™s loan programs could help them â€śbridge the time until the bridge is back in place.â€ť
â€śThis is a time-sensitive issue,â€ť Ackerman told The Times at the end of the session. â€śI understand that the infrastructure will get done when it gets done. But in the meantime, we have businesses that are going out of business. We canâ€™t wait for the bridge to re-open, we have to figure out what kind of relief we can give to the businesses to keep them going.â€ť
Mayor Daniel McKee said events like the one on Tuesday, â€śonly help if people get helped. Weâ€™ve had these before, so people have talked about this, but there needs to be some level of action, thatâ€™s what we need to measure.â€ť
â€śWhat we want to communicate is that there are good programs,â€ť Chafee said, â€śand we have pro-active people; thatâ€™s the kind of attitude we want to foster.â€ť
The chamber of commerceâ€™s Gregory said, â€śSmall businesses are just so busy, that to have the opportunity to be in a room for two hours and find out about a lot of stuff â€“ whether it is loan programs or business plans, renewable energy, all those things, we think has a value.â€ť