Nesi’s Notes: Dec. 31

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Happy New Year! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. At this point, it’s not controversial to say the Providence region’s manufacturing sector – and thus its broader economy – has been hit harder than most places by globalization (and automation). The evidence continues to pile up, the latest being a Cleveland Fed paper showing the Providence metro area saw the nation’s biggest swing from manufacturing jobs to degree-intensive work after 1980. It’s not the first time the region has led such a list: MIT’s David Autor has found that out of 722 economic zones nationwide, Providence-area manufacturers ranked second in exposure to Chinese competition as of 1990, and The Wall Street Journal reported Rhode Island led the nation in manufacturing job losses from 2001 to 2011. Why? A key culprit seems to be the fact that local manufacturers were concentrated in lower-tech products, such as jewelry, toys and textiles, whose assembly was relatively easy to offshore or automate. The resulting dislocation has been disorienting and demoralizing for tens of thousands of people, and the effects are increasingly visible, from political shifts to a rise in suicides. Even as Rhode Island leaders focus on new possibilities for economic growth, they will continue to face the question of how to help blue-collar workers who would have had jobs in all those shuttered factories a generation ago.

2. Not that we weren’t warned. All the way back in 1954, a Brown academic argued “what is needed now is not further industrialization but a diversion of resources into different types of industries and an adaptation of existing manufacturing industries to new products and new technologies.” And the 1983 Greenhouse Compact report said low pay in the state was “partially due to the dampening effect of Rhode Island’s large proportion of low wage industries and partly because Rhode Island firms are often concentrated in lower value added products within those industries.”

3. Another way to think about the economy: the Rhode Island labor force has shrunk by 19,000 workers over the last decade; if those people were still in the labor force and looking for work today, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate would be 8.4% rather than 5.3%. Some of them likely left the labor force for reasons other than discouragement, such as retirement, but likely not all of them, especially since the state’s 16-and-older population has grown by about 23,000 over the decade.

4. Care New England lost $53 million from during its 2016 fiscal year, almost twice as much as Lifespan, a much larger enterprise.

5. Planning is well underway for the National Governors Association’s summer meeting in Providence next July, the first to be held here in 16 years, and a loyal Gina Raimondo ally is heading up the effort. Cara Cromwell, the Bristol political operative and PR consultant who served as spokeswoman for Raimondo’s transition team, is serving as executive director of the Rhode Island team planning the meeting, NGA spokeswoman Elena Waskey confirms. “Her work includes event planning and operations as well as fundraising,” Waskey reports. “Her position is being paid for through money raised by the fundraising committee for the meeting.” As Dan McGowan reported back in August, a 501(c)3 organization called Rhode Island NGA 2017 has been formed to collect donations for the gathering. That group is led by Jon Duffy, Don Sweitzer, Ed Galvin and Martha Sheridan, and the governor is supporting their efforts.

6. Governor Raimondo is losing one of the most valued members of her team. Her office confirmed Friday that Matt Bucci, who serves as special advisor and director of the governor’s office, will be stepping down at the end of January to take a job with California-based AECOM’s Growth & Strategy Group. (AECOM is a major RIDOT contractor, but Bucci’s role doesn’t involve government and won’t involve lobbying or the state, according to Raimondo spokesman Mike Raia.) Bucci, 33, spent his post-college years working for Jack Reed before joining Raimondo’s staff and emerged as a sort of human Swiss Army knife, with a wide-ranging portfolio and a constantly buzzing iPhone. He and his wife, Emily, are expecting their second child any day now. Also on the personnel front, Raimondo’s office announced Jon Romano is joining her staff as a $155,564-a-year senior advisor. Romano is currently a senior advisor to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and worked for the pro-casino group Rhode Islanders for Jobs and Tax Relief in the 2006 state referendum campaign; he’s also Joe Paolino’s son-in-law and was by Paolino’s side when the Newport Grand vote results came in two years ago. Romano starts next month.

7. Get pumped: the General Assembly kicks off its 2017 session Tuesday at 4 p.m.

8. So now we know where Shawna Lawton got the money for her pro-Mattiello mailer (Teresa Graham and Victor Pichette) and whether John Hazen White Jr. breached campaign-finance limits aiding the speaker (yes). Kathy Gregg has what you need to know on Lawton, and Ian Donnis has the details on Hazen White. Next question: what action, if any, will the Board of Elections take?

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9. The sudden and unexpected departure of John DePetro from WPRO marks a major change in Rhode Island’s media landscape – a welcome one for his critics, and a disappointment to his fans. Few individuals in the state were more adept than DePetro at pushing a story or issue from the margins into a major topic of discussion, so his absence from the airwaves will have a real impact on local politics. For WPRO, it’s the second major shakeup in its lineup this year, coming less than 12 months after the death of Buddy Cianci. Will the station look outside to fill DePetro’s shoes?

10. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “With the General Assembly returning to work Tuesday, it won’t be long before Mayor Elorza rolls out his legislative agenda for 2017. So what is Providence looking for? Judging by Elorza’s previous requests, you can expect him to ask lawmakers to fully fund the education funding formula and increase other state aid to the city. In the past, he’s also backed a minimum wage increase, which looks likely to pass in 2017, and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, which Speaker Mattiello appears to be ruling out. From there, it’s possible he’ll again ask the General Assembly to approve some type of legislation that requires the nonprofit colleges and hospitals to provide more funding to the city. (These bills have gone nowhere for years, but if changes to retiree pensions are on the table, one has to imagine Elorza will at least ask for help in getting the nonprofits to pony up more money.) The city has some continuity with the folks at Government Strategies Inc. staying on as its lobbying firm, but this will be the third straight year the city has a new legislative liaison. That job – the actual title is director of partnerships and intergovernmental affairs – is now held by Peter Asen, a well-liked City Hall staffer who previously worked in the legislature. Asen is replacing Kristen Dart, who is widely expected to join Speaker Mattiello’s staff once he is officially re-elected to the top post on Tuesday.”

11. East Side Monthly looks at the fight over Providence’s “Gano Street Gateway.”

12. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken once again organized a Secret Santa gift swap for senators this year, and once again Jack Reed took part while Sheldon Whitehouse abstained. (No word from Whitehouse’s office on why he abstains – surely he’d like to put coal in the stockings of a few pro-fossil-fuel senators?) Reed got Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, whom he presented with a West Point tie – fitting for both since Wicker represents West Point, Mississippi, and Reed graduated from the academy. Reed’s own Secret Santa was Virginia Sen. Mark Warner; Reed’s spokesman reports Warner “gave him a beautiful wooden cutting board in the shape of Rhode Island.”

13. Over the holidays I read a great book, “The Big Change,” Frederick Lewis Allen’s 1952 history of the first half of the twentieth century. One good reason to read history is to be reminded that some phenomena aren’t new, which is why this Allen passage about early Cold War alarm over Communism stuck out to me: “That behind this uneasy scapegoat hunting is the sense of frustration produced by living under the tensions of an uneasy day was manifest during the uproar over the removal of General MacArthur in the spring of 1951. For perhaps the most striking thing about that great debate was not the speeches and counter-speeches, or the interminable sessions of the Joint Congressional Committee which interviewed officials at length, but the floods of venomous letters received by newspaper editors and radio commentators who did not favor the great General. It was almost as if some wellspring of poison had been tapped.” And they didn’t even have Twitter!

14. A reminder of what the masses are really interested in online – these are the six most-read WPRI.com stories of 2016: “Vincent ‘Buddy’ Cianci dead at 74” (Jan. 28); “Missing South Kingstown woman found deceased” (April 22); “RI police on high alert as tensions mount between feuding biker gangs” (Aug. 18); “Former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci is getting married” (Jan. 4); “Police: Driver in Route 6 crash had previous traffic violations” (Dec. 1); and “Serial child molester released from prison” (Dec. 1).

15. Marguerite Rose, Rhode Island’s entrant in the Ms. Senior America pageant contest, got her photo in The New York Times.

16. Edward Hopper’s famous painting “Nighthawks,” explained.

17. “I wanted a restaurant that was affordable to everybody. That’s no longer sustainable,” writes North owner James Mark.

18. “News is the evil we do each other, seldom the good.

19. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersGovernor Raimondo. This week on Executive Suite – ChemArt CEO Richard Beaupre; former Virginia & Spanish Peanut Co. co-owners Peter and Robert Kaloostian. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. And you can subscribe to both shows as iTunes podcasts – click here for Executive Suite and click here for Newsmakers. See you back here next Saturday morning.Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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