Rhode Island has a shot at Amazon, says corporate relocation expert

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PROVIDENCE, R.I, -- Rhode Island's favorable tax structure and recent economic growth should put the state in the running for Amazon's second headquarters, according to a corporate relocation specialist.

"That makes a very strong case to at least consider doing something in Rhode Island," John Boyd Jr., a principal at Boyd Co., said Tuesday at the inaugural Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank summit at the Omni hotel in downtown Providence.

Boyd Co., founded in 1975 in Princeton, N.J., is one of the nation's oldest corporate site selection firms.

Seattle-based corporate behemoth Amazon has announced its intention for a second headquarters, which could employ up to 50,000 people.

Boyd encouraged Rhode Island to continue efforts to upgrade its infrastructure, which national report cards have rated among the country's worst.

Aging infrastructure has become a major concern in Rhode Island. The American Society of Civil Engineers pegged Rhode island's bridge conditions the nation's worst, saying 56% of them are obsolete. It also said more than half its roads are in poor shape.

"Infrastructure is fundamental to economic development," said Boyd. "Infrastructure is the link that connects Rhode Island to the national and global markets."

Rhode Island on Monday broke ground for its Wexford Innovation Center on Providence land vacated by the relocation of Interstate 195.

Launched 18 months ago in an effort bolster infrastructure statewide, the bank has invested more than $214 million in local infrastructure. "A lot has been done," said the bank's executive director, Jeffrey Diehl.

Discussions throughout the day ranged from economic development to resiliency to uncertainty about funding from Washington.

President Trump has yet to release an infrastructure spending bill.

Resiliency has a higher priority of late, given the recent spate of killer storms.

"As we've seen in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, we need to invest in climate change," said state General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. "It's not something far off in the future. We've all watched in horror."

Magaziner taught elementary school in rural Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

"We've been lucky in Rhode Island, but it's only a matter of time," he said.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order creating a chief resiliency officer. She hired Shaun O'Rourke, the infrastructure bank's director of stormwater resiliency, for the position.

According to Diehl, infrastructure initiatives have created roughly 5,310 jobs statewide.

New programs, according to Diehl, have already saved six municipalities more than $20 million and local businesses more than $2 million through reduced energy costs.

Its programs, he said, have also increased access to low-cost capital for residential property owners to finance septic system repairs, improve access to clean drinking water and help cities and towns bolster against weather resiliency.

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