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Chafee Meets With Stokes

Governor Chafee's office confirms that the governor met yesterday with Keith Stokes, executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, to discuss his future and the direction of the agency.

No word, yet, on whether Stokes will remain as EDC chief. But Stokes is telling people the meeting went well.

Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor says an announcement on the executive director's post and appointments to the EDC board will be forthcoming soon.

Scott MacKay over at WRNI reported a couple of days ago that the Chafee Administration could tap Jim Bennett, a Republican businessman and former chairman of the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority, for Stokes's job. But Trainor denied that anyone outside the agency is under serious consideration for the post.

Chafee was highly critical of the EDC during the campaign, focusing most heavily on its decision to grant a $75 million loan guarantee to unproven video game company 38 Studios. He also raised larger questions about the direction of economic development policy in the state, suggesting a broad overhaul and a stronger hand for the governor's office in setting policy.

Trainor said Chafee and top aide Pat Rogers are hard at work in crafting an economic development strategy. And he did little to downplay suggestions that it will involve a significant reorientation of the EDC's role. Trainor also suggested that Rogers will play a key role in the economic development apparatus going forward.

Whatever Chafee's choice, the business community will be watching closely. And retaining Stokes is a top priority for many in corporate Rhode Island. The arguments for keeping him around: a) the need for consistency in an agency plagued by heavy leadership turnover in recent years and b) Stokes's experience in economic development.

The central point here: economic development - which involves politics, public policy, marketing, etc. - is a specific skill; a businessman plucked from the private sector, with little experience in economic development, won't cut it.

Asked if the governor's team shared that line of thinking, Trainor said forthcoming appointments to the executive director's post and the board would do the talking.

 

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