Monday, September 14, 2015

Delivering in the clutch

The Red Sox have been on a tear for the last few weeks, winning games they would have lost earlier in the season and piling up the runs when I was expecting goose eggs. There will be no playoff baseball in Boston but at least they are ending the season on a high note.
The season’s crescendo was reached on Saturday night when David Ortiz hit his 500th career home run—a feat only accomplished by 27 other major league players. While this alone does not punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame, it certainly adds to his list of qualifications (three world series rings, clutch hits) that will put him in consideration. For many fans, this countdown to 500 was the only reason to continue to watch the team this year so his accomplishment capped off the Red Sox season just as Labor Day weekend ended the official “try not to get run over by someone with New York plates” season in Rhode Island.
It’s all good of course. For as much as we’d like to evolve into something else, Rhode Island will always attract people because of our quaint towns and beautiful coastline. Tourism remains a bright spot since the economic recovery still feels like a wobbly one in Little Rhody: while unemployment is down we know that many people have moved or have just stopped looking. While tax receipts are up, we still look at empty office buildings downtown. We’re not South of the Border, but let’s face it, a lot is riding on our high season and thankfully we have state leaders that see that we need to promote ourselves and invest in key infrastructure to get a larger share of tourism dollars that are headed for New England.
The new ad campaign has yet to be launched but just like Big Papi’s big swing in Tampa, tourism seems to have delivered in the clutch with Newport predicting that this summer may have broken records for tourism dollars. Anchored by the overwhelming success of Newport’s Volvo Ocean Race stop—which attracted more than 125,000 people—Newport’s hotels were near capacity all summer. According to Discover Newport, in July alone, the lodging tax was up 36.5 percent over the previous year. It’s worth noting that the key to hosting the Volvo Ocean Race (which will be back in 2017) was significant public investment in restoring Fort Adams and building a facility that can hold world class sailing events.
People who turn their noses up at tourism efforts are also missing the big picture: when people experience a Rhode Island summer, they don’t want to leave. In order to grow our economy, we must attract new businesses, led by people who want to live here. While states like Alaska, Mississippi and Alabama have far lower taxes, business owners may find Rhode Island more appealing because of our proximity to New York and Boston, our great educational institutions, our culture of innovation—as well as our beautiful landmarks. Just like Papi’s 500th home run won’t be the one thing that gets him to Cooperstown, the sum of our assets will put Rhode Island’s economy back on firm ground again.

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