Greater City Providence

Providence ranked #1….

dscn4556in Forbes’ list of U.S. cities where it’s hardest to get by. Ummm, hooray?

Apparently, using criteria including; unemployment rate, median income, and cost of living, Providence finds itself at the top of this list. I would obviously have to agree, if we’re to go by such strict and narrow indicators, but Forbes puts out lists of whatnot more often than I put out the trash, so I doubt that they put in the extra effort to send somebody to actually scope the place out and test the real-world implications of their data. That being said, I think their opening line about not finding many smiles in Providence is naive, at best. I’m sure we’re getting it worse than most these days, but it doesn’t seem to me that folks have lost hope here. Does anybody agree? Read more at

David Rocha


  • They are the experts, therefore I must be more unhappy than I realize. Using Forbes as my guide I will be moving to Charlotte, NC. because I can be happy there surrounded by affordable undifferentiated suburban sprawl.

  • I’m still surprised we ranked higher (or lower) than places like Buffalo, Cleveland DETROIT and Vegas, which are reeling. But I agree, the tone and focus of the article was definitely misplaced as far as Providence goes.

  • Perhaps you should try your own survey. I am not kidding and not trying to be cynical. Ask 10 friends how they feel about living in RI. I ran for office last year and knocked on lots of doors. It really was an eye opening experience. RI is at the wrong end of every list in good times and bad. I think we need to make fundamental changes in how we do things here but for many reasons just can’t or won’t do it. Maybe with property values going down we won’t top the list next time but we will always be in the vicinity until we can figure out how to create more jobs in RI.

  • Isn’t Forbes the same pub that has us on the top of a mess of lists, too? Forbes doesn’t care about sun belt real estate. They’re in the business of selling lists.

    BTW, Jack, I think PVD is reeling, too. PVD county has an unemployment rate over 11%. I think those of us in the tech/creative sector don’t feel it because OUR industry is not in a recession.

    Folks with a high school diploma and 20 years working a kick press may be having a harder time.

    Hence my real concern that the new EDC plan doesn’t mention education. But that’s for another post…

  • Patrick, I think you are right in a lot of ways, but I also think there will have to be some pain as well. Too much of this state’s economy is based on government. Local, State, and Federal Government between jobs and benefits (e.g. welfare) support something like 60% of the population. That is not sustainable, because eventually the money that comes in from tourism and education isn’t enough to sustain that. Actually, let’s face it, we are already through that looking glass and have been for quite a while.

    As for the ranking I think it’s pretty easy to see why – high unemployment coupled with a high cost of living with high taxes (once you get your head above water) thrown in for good measure.

    RI needs to find a way to undo 50 years of really bad politics and economic policy. I hope that the innovation that Frymaster talks about on his blog helps spur some of that. And while I agree with a lot of Carcieri’s politics (well, at least in terms of reducing the size of the government bureaucracy) his seeming plan to make RI into New Jersey Mark II, full of sprawl and highways and 4 parking spots in strip malls for every resident, hasn’t helped. It’s sad, really.

  • @ frymaster: I agree we are in bad shape, but things are certainly not as dire as Detroit or any of the cities I mentioned.

  • I agree with Frymaster that the EDC review panel did not go far enough with its recommendations. It should have addressed the poor state of public education and high taxes. Why is that? If you look at the make up of the panel you see that organized labor is well represented. Is this something they should be involved in? I have no problem with collective bargaining for pay, benefits and work conditions. But does labor need to have a voice in all aspects of strategic planning for our state? Is it sometimes counter productive?

  • I’m wondering when, according to Forbes, our economy became so dependent on the construction industry. Is that true? I thought medical, government, education, and tourism were our big sectors. Aside from the last 2 years or so, when was construction such a big part of our economy? How can construction be so big in an economy that has been basically stagnant if not contracting, for a generation or more?

  • Cheap financing and sweet deals with municipalities made construction a huge industry. You could show some pretty pictures and pull some numbers out of your butt and get a city or town to cut you all sorts of breaks, then turn around and get a loan for way too much money, and then build a mall, or a plaza, or a luxury condo building.

    In the end, we’re sitting on a reduced tax-base (because of those sweet deals) , empty storefronts and condos, and we’ve ignored the -real- economy shrinking while all that construction made it look like there was still a lot going on.

    It used to be that massive construction project would bring down their builder if they failed. Investing all your loot into a massive project would either cement you in history, or lead to your ruin, depending on the outcome. Now, we have executives building stuff using investments from overseas and pension funds, then bailing themselves out on golden-parachutes when things turn pear-shaped, leaving the investors to ask ‘what went wrong?’

  • FWIW, I don’t think we need EDC to tell us about the high priority of quality education. As far as high taxes, aren’t the proposed tax code changes proof that the state is doing something to affect this? If you read the below link, it is being reported by one source that RI’s business friendliness ranking would jump from 46 to 16. Whether you agree with the information is one thing and whether you trust the state to make the right decision is another. But, it does appear that steps are being taken to address taxes. As far as education, I think the best chance of improving things is a high amount of local organizing putting pressure on school officials.

  • Aaron,
    1) The General Assembly controls the state budget and special interest goups control the GA. They will not allow the tax code to be changed in any significant way. If we go from 46 to 45 this year I will be amazed. 16 is just plain fantasy.

    2) Teacher Unions control much of the education system in RI. Why does the NEARI oppose charter schools and mayoral academies when so many families clearly want to provide a better education for the kids? Would anyone here send their child to Providence Public Schools if they had another option? Huh? Anyone?

    And yes the EDC and everyone else should speak up about taxes and education. How else will any real change come to pass?

  • Doing something about taxes is good, but it does not solve the root problem which is that it costs too much to run this state and too few people pick up that burden. That’s what I mean with the 50 years of politics comments.

    I think the unions are absolutely a big problem and probably need their own bureaucracies and fiefdoms torn down. I’m not sure how RI compares to other states in this regard but they seem to be worse. But I’ll just say that it’s probably NOT a coincidence that the areas of the country with the most problems at the moment seem to be highly unionized areas where people increased their demands exponentially over the period of 1950-2000 and now everyone is realizing that companies and the general public have no real way of keeping all of those promises…promises made reluctantly under political pressure from the unions.

    Blah blah this is an oversimplification of one of my frustrations and I know it’s not as simple as all that.

    I’m just amazed that given its geography and natural resources RI isn’t doing better. It’s not like when RI first took a beating because (like Detroit today) it was too heavily invested in a single little piece of the economy. Then I could understand it. Now I just really don’t, and I see a lot of simply asinine policies in the place that have to be part of the problem.

  • From today’s Journal. It doesn’t look like RI will improve its “Business Friendly” ranking this year.

    Editorial: Not an economic island
    01:00 AM EDT on Friday, April 24, 2009

    There’s apparently General Assembly backsliding in efforts to make Rhode Island’s tax structure more competitive with Massachusetts and Connecticut. Indeed, some legislators seem to want to actually raise income taxes to pay for programs (such as the state’s out-of-control public-employee pension plans, whose reform some legislators fervently fight) and make it even less competitive.

    Common sense would dictate that leaders of this tiny state realize it shouldn’t be less tax-competitive than its much bigger neighbors. But many legislators have little experience in the private sector, know little about how investment capital creates companies and jobs, have never had to meet a payroll and, indeed, know little about what is happening policy-wise outside the tight confines of this minuscule jurisdiction.

    What does play all too big a part in their decision-making is pressure from representatives of local interest groups they meet in the street or in the State House.

    Signs of the Ocean State’s tax system can be seen in such data as that the Ocean State last year ranked 47th in America in job growth and that the percentage of Rhode Islanders reporting income of more than $200,000 is only 2.7 percent, much lower than its neighbors’. In 2005-06, even before the recession, more than 8,200 taxpayers fled Rhode Island, and that flight seems to be accelerating.

    But then with Rhode Island’s individual income-tax rate America’s highest, at 9.9 percent, the estate-tax exemption ($650,000) the lowest, and the corporate-income-tax rate of 9 percent the seventh highest, you might guess that there would be such bad numbers.

    Legislators must accept the common sense that money is fungible, and hold the line on taxes. Rhode Island simply cannot prosper for long if its tax structure is more daunting than its neighbors’. It is just too small to go its own way.

  • I am inclined to agree with Forbes, but not solely based on their data. Sure people aren’t all that smiley- we’re in New England after all, but my daily interaction with the city at large is in the streets as I transport myself. The condition of the streets is a joke. The sheer volume of potholes makes them a danger to everyone who uses them. Motorists either don’t know or completely disregard rights of way and by doing so accidentally or willfully endanger others. No one uses their directional, which to me is a simple lack of consideration for other people around them. This doesn’t include the number of times that I have been purposely thwarted while riding my bike by others in cars. Or the fact that walking on the street automatically makes you a spectacle. Providence is the only city where I have been solicited for sex on my way to work on foot at 9am and on more than one occasion. The interactions with other people required while driving, walking and biking are a form of non-verbal communication. If this is any indication of the kinds of people that live in Providence, I don’t want to talk to anyone.

Providence, RI
5:10 am8:23 pm EDT
Feels like: 77°F
Wind: 7mph SSW
Humidity: 63%
Pressure: 30.29"Hg
UV index: 0
93°F / 70°F
88°F / 66°F
79°F / 66°F