Kaplan's exit: not all that surprising


Some speculate that Saul Kaplan was asked to give up his job as executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. As we know, Governor Carcieri said via a statement that Kaplan plans to return to the private sector. At minimum, the timing is striking, given the state's very serious economic problems.

Yet with Carcieri's time in office ticking down, it won't be surprising to see more department directors making their exit. More to the point, the leadership of the EDC has traditionally been subject to a lot of turnover, no doubt due in part to the highly politicized and thankless aspects of the job.

Back in May, in a story on RI's multi-decade struggle for economic development, I noted:

The way in which the legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development recently grilled the Economic Development Corporation’s Saul Kaplan — taking him to task for the state’s moribund economic growth, without considering the role played over time by the General Assembly — left some observers incredulous.

Meanwhile, there's a decided good cop-bad cop quality to Kaplan's evaluations, via the ProJo, from two key legislative leaders:

Sen. M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, the presumed new state Senate president, praised Kaplan’s work in the transition from Rhode Island’s manufacturing-based economy to a more knowledge-based economy. But she said she welcomed the change in leadership.

“I believe his resignation in this challenging economy presents an opportunity for us to really move EDC in a different direction and focus more on job development and small business than has been the policy in the past,” she said. “…We need to focus more on the here and now rather than the long term.”

The top economic development priority, Paiva Weed said, should be getting people to work as quickly as possible.

Rep. Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said in an interview that he has been disappointed with the outcome of the EDC’s efforts to promote job growth.

“I understand we have a national economy that has had a deleterious effect on job growth,” Costantino said. “At the same time, I have been disappointed with the results that have come out of the EDC.”

Rhode Island and its economic promoters need to walk and to chew gum -- to make short-term improvements while keeping a focus on long-term goals. There have been some successes along the way, but the overall returns thus far speak for themselves, and there's plenty of blame to go around.

Considering this, and the opportunity to make more in the private sector (which will likely provide a more congenial environment than government for his innovation-related interests), Kaplan's departure is not particularly surprising.

 (I didn't make an effort to speak with Kaplan for this post, since it seems as if he doesn't want to talk with the media about his departure. He deserves credit, though, for remaining very accessible during his tenure at the EDC.)

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