By Graham Vyse | Governing
hode Island once had a lot of firsts to boast about. America’s smallest state was the first to embrace religious freedom, the first to declare independence from Britain and the first to build a successful textile mill, thus bringing the Industrial Revolution to America. But there haven’t been many such milestones lately. Decades of manufacturing job losses and the Great Recession left the state’s economy decimated, languishing in the shadow of neighboring Massachusetts without a clear path to 21st-century viability. In 2013, Rhode Island received a first-place designation that no state covets — the highest unemployment rate in the country.
All this was prologue to a summer day two years ago when Gov. Gina Raimondo arrived at the Port of Providence to tout the nation’s first offshore wind farm, then just months from operation off the Ocean State’s picturesque Block Island. Standing in front of massive turbine blades recently delivered to the port, Raimondo promised the farm would provide Rhode Islanders a cleaner source of energy, lower costs, a diversified fuel supply and lots of new jobs. “This is the way to rebuild our economy,” she said. “We cannot bring back old-fashioned manufacturing.”