Known as the "Ocean State," Rhode Island is the smallest state in the country some forty-eight miles long by thirty-seven miles wide with the beautiful Narragansett Bay cutting the state almost in half. As a major part of New England, Rhode Island maintains its own distinct identity, supported by a great sense of independence. Founded in 1636 as a religious retreat, "Rhode Island quickly became a safe haven for many religious and political groups and due to its miles of coastline along Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the state rapidly became the main center during Colonial times for the shipbuilding industry" (McLoughlin, 56).
Historically, Rhode Island is quite unique as compared to other U.S. states for several reasons. First, as a colony, Rhode Island broke away from Great Britain on May 4, 1776, a full two months before the other colonies supported the Declaration of Independence. Following the Revolutionary War, Rhode Island refused to join the union, thus becoming the last colony to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1790. This tendency for stubbornness continued well into the 20th century, for "when the rest of the states approved the Volstead Act which brought about Prohibition, Rhode Island was one of two states to reject it. This soon made it possible for the state to take up, although illegally, bootlegging on a large scale" (McLoughlin, 67).
In addition, Rhode Island has been called the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in America, due to its numerous rivers which could be harnessed for powering factories. In 1790, the first successful cotton-making operation commenced; in 1814, the first power loom was developed, and by 1820, the textile industry was created and provided a decent living for thousands of immigrants, such as those from Canada, Ireland, England and Italy, the same ethnic groups that make up a good portion of today's population in Rhode Island.
In order to appreciate the economic status of Rhode Island, we must take a brief look at its past which highly influenced every aspect of its current economy. First of all, Rhode Island's economic development has witnessed many changes within the past two hundred years and has gone through numerous important phases. During the 17th and 18th centuries, agriculture (agrarian system) was the dominant source of revenue and employment, but within several decades of the founding of the colony, the agricultural output was surpassed by exportable commodities, such as livestock, meat, lumber, fruits and vegetables and dairy products, all of which were exported to the Caribbean and to other colonies located along the Atlantic Seaboard.
Since agriculture served as the foundation for Rhode Island's commerce in the 18th century, the merchants of the colony quickly diversified their products and developed a thriving merchant trading system, due in part to Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay with its four hundred miles of irregular coastline. The most important product imported during this period was molasses from the Caribbean which was mainly used as a distillation for rum which was then used as a kind of barter for the import of slaves from Africa. In respect to slaves, Rhode Island was no different than its colonial neighbors, but when the colony adopted its state constitution, it banned slavery, a move that placed Rhode Island far ahead of the other colonies which allowed slavery.
After the American Revolution, the economy of the colony experienced a radical shift, due to its independence from the English mercantile system and the rise of manufacturing in Providence, the current state capitol. With the Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island became a major manufacturing state, mostly in the form of cotton yarn, processed by waterpower for the first time in American history. By the mid-1800's, cotton production has displaced ordinary commerce and became the base of Rhode Island's economic system.
Also during this time, the production of wool expanded which increased the need for textile machinery. Another important industry which still exists even today was the manufacture of precious metals, such as gold and silver. Thus, for more than a century, these three industries dominated Rhode Island's economy and made many Rhode Islanders wealthy and prosperous.
A very important development linked to these industries was the creation of a "post-industrial phase in which Rhode Islanders were gainfully employed in trade and service positions, a trend which continues to this very day" (Kellner, 167). In today's Rhode Island, the metals and machinery industries employs well over 30% of the workforce and includes iron and steel foundries, fabricated metals, machinery and electrical equipment. Some of newer industries include electronics, instrumentation, chemicals, plastics and transportation equipment (Thompson, 89).
According to the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation website, a new "Industrial Revolution" is currently underway in Rhode Island, "comprised of companies that invest in technology and workforce training in order to compete in the global market." Some of the "High-Tech" leaders include American Power Conversion, Raytheon Systems, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and "home-grown" leaders, like Teknor Apex.
Also, "robotics, instrumentation, electronic components and high-tolerance plastic components are. . . some of the many world-class products crafted in the Ocean State." One of the major players in all of this development is William Parsons who "has served as EDC Deputy
Director since 1990" and "oversees the Project Management and Community Development
efforts at EDC" and is involved "with the purchase and development of several industrial and commercial parks" (2005, Internet).
In addition, Rhode Island's current economic status is due to design-driven technologies and the idea that "the key to wealth and job creation largely depends on the extent to which ideas and innovation are embedded into services and products." According to the Center for Enterprise Development, in 1997 Rhode Island had "one of the best collections of technology resources in the nation" which in conjunction with leveraged business investments, serves as the base for investment tax credit.
Obviously, Rhode Island's tax base is highly dependent upon these new technologies, not to mention the number of people employed in these industries which also contributes to the tax base. One special person responsible for the new "Industrial Revolution" in Rhode Island is Stuart Freiman who has helped to "stimulate the growth of Rhode Island's high technology industry," mainly via his focus on the Rhode Island Wireless Innovation Network which has given the people of the state one of the fastest Internet wireless connections ("Rhode Island Economic Development," Internet).
Of course, these innovations in technology have made many Rhode Islanders very wealthy, yet like other states, Rhode Island does have its less fortunate individuals who have not profited from this huge industrial expansion. As Sheila Steinberg points out, the state's "rate of unemployment is consistently above the national average, yet its per capita income is proportional to other states (1980 average $9,444, U.S. average $9,512); however, Rhode Island
has a very favorable corporate tax structure (164).
In May of 1843, as a result of Dorr's Rebellion, Rhode Island adopted its state constitution, and since this time, there have been forty-two amendments with several holding considerable importance for the state's citizens. Although the original system of adopting amendments to the constitution was rather awkward, a change in the basic method of adoption currently allows amendments to be ratified by a majority of the entire membership of each house of the state legislature and by a simple majority of those electors voting at a general election.
The structure of government in Rhode Island is based on the traditional model of a three-branch system, being the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The executive branch is made up of a governor (Republican Donald Carcieri), lieutenant governor (Charles J. Fogarty), attorney general (Patrick C. Lynch) and secretary of state (Matthew Brown). These governmental officials are elected for two-year terms in even-numbered years (i.e. As of 2004). In 1935, the executive branch was divided into a departmental system through a reorganization effort known as the "Bloodless Revolution." Nearly all department heads and commissioners are appointed by the governor with the approval of the senate. The governor also has the power of a general veto but not a line item veto.
The state's lawmaking branch is known as the General Assembly, a bicameral body (two legislative chambers) made up of 50 senators and 100 representatives elected for two-year terms. Currently, the Speaker of the House is William J. Murphy, House Majority Leader is Gordon D. Fox, the President of the Senate is Joseph A. Montalbano and the Senate Majority
Leader is M. Teresa Paiva Weed. Before the use of the "one-man one-vote" rule enacted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, appointments in the Rhode Island senate allowed small rural towns run by Republicans to highly influence the state's affairs, a situation that played a major role in the state's political history for more than a hundred years. Following a 1965 redistricting statute, the senate, like the house, became heavily Democratic. Some of the checks practiced by the assembly as a whole include "the power to override a veto by the governor by…