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Entrepreneur sees the upside of hope in Providence

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Rhode Island faces a very difficult balance: deal with the massive fiscal problems at hand, and, at the same time, build on existing strengths without getting dragged down in doom-and-gloom.

Yet Wayne Franklin, who I write about in this week's Phoenix, is a glass-is-half-full kind of guy:

"I think a lot of the stuff is the smaller layers that make a city great," says Franklin, who became intrigued with Providence after repeatedly flying into Rhode Island and seeing parts of its cityscape while driving on I-95 to Boston. "It's just a cool city, and it's manageable, and I feel I can have more impact here."

Acting on this principle, Franklin over the summer launched OfficeLAB (urbansuninvestments.com/knowledge/news/), a cool office time-share on the third floor of the elegant old Federal Reserve Building, 170 Westminster Street, in downtown Providence.

For $175, programmers, Web designers, and other home-based workers can gain 40 hours of monthly access to office space, a game room, a conference room for meeting clients, and rotating gallery-like displays of art work. (There are also perks, including a receptionist-greeter, free coffee and copying, and high-speed Internet.) Twelve people have signed on thus far, far short of the maximum capacity of 80, but it's a start.

The bigger plan of Franklin — who has a background in real estate — is a new venture called Seed Providence, "an initiative to seed investment and collaboration in new ideas, ventures and places that further the economic, environmental and social sustainability of Providence."

The effort will consist of three inter-related parts: a Web site (seedprovidence.com, due to be launched this week) meant to be "a useful online resource for understanding the Providence 'experience' "; an investment fund that will invest "in new projects and ventures that will make Providence a better place, while earning a solid return on their investment"; and labs, funded through Seed Providence, that will attempt to foster education, local investment, urban experience, and such buzz-worthy concepts as creative economy, social entrepreneurship, and environmental stewardship.

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