Mendonca bill would add defense sector mangers to Commerce Corp.

PORTSMOUTH – The state can do more to grow the defense industries, many of which call Aquidneck Island home, said Rep. Ken Mendonca, R-Portsmouth.

The freshman legislator filed a bill at the Statehouse on Wednesday that would add two “senior managers” in the Rhode Island defense sector to the Rhode Island Commerce Corp.

The corporation, a quasi public organization, distributes millions of dollars in incentives for businesses to relocate to Rhode Island and to expand here.

Gov. Gina Raimondo appoints individuals to the 13-member board, but the defense industries are not represented, Mendonca said.

“The state has tried to innovate in different areas,” he said. “We have the ability to grow something we have right here and the technology is diverse. We should be focusing on that.”

The bill, which does not have a companion in the state Senate, would have its first chance to be enacted in the 2018 legislative session, but Mendonca said he wanted to spark the conversation now. With about 33,000 employees and $3.5 billion in annual economic impact for Rhode Island, the defense industries also are a source of well-paying jobs, he said.

While many of the state’s defense industries are congregated on Aquidneck Island, Mendonca believes there are growth options across the Ocean State.

The prevailing attitude has been to “leave the sector be” because of its success. But the state should explore “how can we really leverage that,” Mendonca said. Appointing defense executives to the commerce corporation could generate more attention about the needs and growth areas for the companies.

Two additional members are needed instead of one, Mendonca said, to maintain an odd number of members to ensure there are no tie votes.

By Derek Gomes

Staff writer