PAWTUCKET — It's not like the glory days of the textiles industry, but manufacturing is still alive and well in Pawtucket. So many products — sold both nationally and internationally — are being made here that city officials have decided to showcase many of these companies in the lobby of City Hall on a rotating basis.
As they enter City Hall, visitors now will see two large display cases featuring games, toys, dolls and other products made by Hasbro, Inc. The internationally known toy giant, founded in the 1930s, has been located in the city since 1959, and while much of its manufacturing has moved overseas, still maintains its corporate headquarters, design team and other functions at its sprawling Newport Avenue site.
Cooley Group, makers of flexible composites, is another local company that is doing big things. Some of Cooley's recent projects include partnering with Dow Chemical Company to develop and manufacture a sustainable fabric that will be used to wrap London's Olympic Stadium for the 2012 Olympic Games. It also manufactured a fabric used to contain the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.
So, too, is Bio-Detek, a company nestled quietly in the Narragansett Industrial Park that is on the cutting edge of medical defibrillation, pacing devices and multi-function electrodes.
There are so many more: Providence Metallizing, Excellent Coffee, International Packaging, Rand-Whitney, Neptco, Inc.--all turning out products that are recognized on the national, and in many cases, international stage. Mayor Donald Grebrien and other city officials on his economic development team want to highlight what these companies are doing, which, in many cases, Pawtucket residents aren't even aware of.
The City Hall display project grew out of a “Top to Top” initiative begun earlier this year by Grebien to meet with many of the city's leading businesses. City Councilor Christopher O'Neill suggested the concept, basing it on a practice that is done by the management team at the business he works for, Carriage House Company. The idea is that city leaders would visit Pawtucket's biggest companies, tour the facilities and meet with owners and/or corporate executives to discuss both what the company does and to gain input on ways the city can help further its growth and success.
Douglas Hadden, director of communications and constituent services for Grebien, said that the mayor and his economic development team began the “Top to Top” tour about four months ago, and visited nine companies. In January, the team intends to begin a new round of company meetings.
The mayor's team usually included members of his administration and city officials such as Finance Director Ronald Wunschel, Assistant Director of Planning and Redevelopment Barney Heath, Program Manager for Planning and Redevelopment Edward Soares, Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer Herbert Weiss, and Special Economic Projects Coordinator Richard Kazarian. Many meetings also included Councilor O'Neill, along with Thomas Mann, executive director of The Pawtucket Foundation, and John Gregory, president and CEO of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
Hadden said the team would typically present to the company a slide show of what assistance the city can provide to businesses, including help with navigating the zoning and permitting processes, and municipal resources such as the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency and Pawtucket Business Development Corporation. They would also inquire about what the company was currently doing and its plans for the future.
Hadden said the mayor and his team were often surprised about the global scope of many of these companies, and found the visits both interesting and informative. “We came to the realization that manufacturing is alive and well in the city,” he stated.
Hadden added that the business leaders, in turn, expressed their appreciation that city officials were taking an interest in their company. “We provided active outreach, and all who we met with said that the city had never done this before,” he said.
The new City Hall displays, which will feature a local company every few months, will help spread the word to residents and other visitors to the city about all the manufacturing success and innovation that is going on here, said Hadden. “We want to highlight the companies that have contributed significantly to the economic growth and development of Pawtucket. And there are so many,” he added.
O'Neill said that the national, private label food company that he works for regularly has its senior management sales team meet with the senior management of its customers to give and receive input. “I thought it was smart to do these type of Top to Top meetings. In our case, we're going to city business leaders to gain a better understanding of who our businesses are and to find ways of helping them to invest more in the city,” O'Neill stated. “And the response was very positive. Many of the business leaders we met with couldn't believe we even took the time the come and meet with them,” he said.
O'Neill added that he thinks the Top to Top meetings are “a good first step” in improving economic development. He said it will be the businesses—both the existing ones and new ones—“that are going to help us out of our financial troubles.”