An Innovative Evening in Providence

Rhode Island is renowned for a number of things, including its 400 miles of coastline, its outstanding educational institutions, and its capital, Providence, a city of vibrant neighborhoods, a dynamic downtown and some of the best food in the country. But at an event hosted by Worth on Friday, May 13, Rhode Island got to show off something that many out-of-staters may not appreciate: its resilient and innovative tech and bioscience economies.

Attended by about 100 businesspeople, entrepreneurs and investors and moderated by Worth editor-at-large Richard Bradley, the event was called “Building the Future Economy: Rhode Island is for Innovators.” It kicked off with introductions from Kristen Adamo, CEO of destination marketing organization GoProvidence, and Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. Both spoke of Rhode Island’s vigorous emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic and its status as a welcoming place for tourism and business.

In a demonstration of Rhode Island’s collaborative culture, Adamo and Pryor were followed by Rhode Island governor Dan McKee, United States senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Providence mayor Jorge Elorza. Mayor Elorza spoke of how mayors work in a bipartisan manner to get things done; Governor McKee talked about his plans to strengthen the state’s educational system and foster economic opportunity; and Senator Whitehouse shared his passion for the oceans, his efforts to fight ocean pollution and climate change and opportunities in the Blue Economy.

It wasn’t just elected officials on hand, though. In a panel moderated by Hilary Fagan, president and COO of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, local entrepreneurs and investors in the Blue Economy and bioscience talked about why Rhode Island is well-positioned to lead in those areas. And the state wants to make sure that the growth in Blue Economy and biosciences benefits all of Rhode Island’s citizens: After the panel, local entrepreneur Lanre Ajakaiye walked the audience through his vision for a neighborhood-transforming project at 25 Bough Street in Olneyville.

The night’s final speaker was David Neeleman, founder or co-founder of five different airlines including Jet Blue and, most recently, Breeze Airways, which now has four routes out of Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport and plans to add to its presence there. Welcomed by Iftikhar Ahmed, CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, Neeleman shared thoughts on his remarkable career in aviation, how air travel can improve the world, and why he saw a need for Breeze. And when one audience member asked him how long planes would depend on fossil fuels in order to fly, Neeleman pointed to a group of young entrepreneurs in the audience who were working on exactly that challenge.

As rewarding as the program was, the night didn’t end with the last onstage conversation. Guests lingered afterward for drinks at the Aloft, a new hotel in Providence that is quickly making a mark, or ventured out to see the special edition of Waterfire, the fire-sculpture installation on Providence’s three rivers. Whether they were recapping the night or just enjoying a nightcap, no one seemed to want to leave.

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