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Grants to boost local knowledge-based economy

This fall, the local "knowledge economy" will get another boost. The Innovation Providence Implementation Council announced recently that it will be awarding $100,000 in grant funding to bolster the local knowledge-based economy.

The term "knowledge economy" refers to "economic activity that is based on human capital, on ideas," said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the President. Spies is also the vice chair of IPIC.

"It's businesses, research enterprises, educational activities that center around the creation and dissemination of ideas, with a particular interest in the ways those ideas create commercial activity," he said.

The "knowledge economy initiative" was created in 2007 to develop the health care, technology, research and design and alternative energy sectors of the local economy.
As the state continues to experience economic troubles, the knowledge economy initiative aims to unleash and commercialize the talent of the region, create jobs and wealth, and increase the local tax base, said Janet Raymond, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

IPIC is currently accepting proposals for projects that will grow and strengthen the regional knowledge economy sectors. Grants of $10,000 to $25,000 will be awarded to individual projects.

The funding came from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration.

Last year, the Chamber and the City of Providence handed out $150,000 in grants for 11 projects, including $15,500 that helped launch the new Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was created through the collaboration of Brown and other state partners.

The center "can be seen as a direct outgrowth of the knowledge economy initiative and what it's trying to do," said Brendan McNally, its director. It was created to provide more support for entrepreneurship going on at Brown and in Rhode Island, he added.

"Brown would love to see a vibrant entrepreneur community," McNally said.

The center is meant to be a hub that supports research endeavors exploring commercial opportunities, he said.

Last year, the center used the funds it received to conduct a workshop that "engaged people in figuring out what we need in Rhode Island" in terms of supporting entrepreneurship, McNally said.

"We had 80 people attend and it was, in short, an exciting stakeholder strategy session," McNally wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

The center plans to submit another proposal to IPIC this year to create a program or another event to support entrepreneurship, McNally said.

The ultimate goal of the knowledge economy initiative and of the grants being awarded by IPIC is to create jobs that produce income for both individuals and public entities, Spies said. The state is "suffering from the loss of jobs and inability to create enough new ones to keep people employed," he said.

One of the goals of the knowledge economy initiative is to increase collaboration between academic, civic and medical institutions, to which the grant funding has partly contributed, Spies said.

"We're making progress. I think there's a lot more we can and should do. I don't by any means feel the job is done. There are signs of collaboration on small things. You see that in some of the grant proposals," he said.

Raymond said that Providence has great institutions — including colleges, universities and hospitals — and that the city needs to take advantage of their work.

For Brown, Spies said, he hopes the knowledge economy initiative and grant funding "means that we're able to extend our reach, that faculty and students will find interesting people to collaborate with in work that is of interest to them."

He cited cities that are further along in similar initiatives, like Boston and Pittsburgh, as an example of how a city can grow its knowledge economy. Pittsburgh, in particular, he said was able to create a "lively knowledge economy" around its universities and medical centers.

"It's a way of sustaining a community that doesn't exist if there isn't any economic activity at the core," Spies said. He added that he hopes Providence will become a locus of budding knowledge and research that the community would be able to rely on in the future.
"That's the dream, anyway," said Spies. "And I'm an eternal optimist."


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