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Stokes' Small-Business Idea

With Lincoln Chafee's proposal for an expansion of the sales tax, all eyes are on the gubernatorial candidates and their prescriptions for short-term solutions to the state's budget problem and long-term solutions to its economic development problem.

But after Governor Carcieri named Keith Stokes, executive director of the Newport Chamber of Commerce, to a one-year appointment atop the state's Economic Development Corporation, it will be interesting to see if his recent call for a $50 million bond that could bolster the state's small business loan program gets some traction. From a recent Providence Business News story:

PROVIDENCE – The head of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce has proposed a bond referendum to boost the state’s economy and provide additional capital for small-business owners.

Keith W. Stokes, who also serves on the quasi-public R.I. Economic Development Corporation’s board, proposed a bond issue of up to $50 million in testimony he gave Wednesday to the Senate Task Force on Small Business Growth and Development at the Statehouse.

“Economic development as a public function in this state has been fragmented and undercapitalized,” said Stokes, who has worked on economic development issues in Rhode Island for more than 20 years. Although he is the EDC board’s treasurer, Stokes testified in his capacity as executive director of the Newport Chamber.

Stokes singled out programs for small, minority- and women-owned businesses as having been “grossly undercapitalized” compared with other states. “We have not made a sustained investment in economic development,” he said. “We need to provide sustained support of key state agencies.”

Stressing that the greatest problem small businesses face remains a lack of available capital, Stokes said a $50 million bond could increasing financing for small business by recapitalizing the EDC’s Small Business Loan Fund, among other measures.

The fund has not been recapitalized since 1988 and its value has fallen to approximately $2 million, Stokes said. 

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