Silicon Valley wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Kendall Square. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find any hotbed of innovation that sprouted up overnight.
In our I-195 District, a neighborhood’s worth of buildings isn’t miraculously rising from the earth and instantaneously filling up either. However, under Gov. Gina Raimondo and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, development has finally been occurring rapidly and impressively. Rhode Island is setting a new standard for both pace and quality.
There is over $500 million of total project costs and more than 1 million square feet of new development already completed or underway in the area known as the Innovation and Design District. These include the Wexford Innovation Complex, River House, residential development, the new parks and the pedestrian bridge.
But there are still some who think this is not happening fast enough. The Dec. 6 editorial (“Wexford searches for more tenants”) expressed the hope that the Wexford Innovation Center, only open for five months, would fill more of its office space. I prefer to look at the metaphorical Wexford glass as half full.
Wexford is already thriving. Prestigious institutions like Johnson & Johnson and the Brown School of Professional Studies are anchoring the facility. The Cambridge Innovation Center has more than 50 companies with 150 employees operating in their space. The state’s vision for a place for companies to go, thrive, innovate and collaborate is flourishing.
According to The Brookings Institute, a successful innovation ecosystem needs three things: physical, networking, and economic assets. Providence’s Innovation and Design District has all of these in abundance. With the appropriate support, we will attract new businesses to drive our future economic success.
The Wexford building along with the other planned projects planned will provide the physical space needed to attract tenants. We know there is demand out there for Class A office space. With our neighbors in Boston struggling with high rents and max capacity, having this space at our disposal makes our state attractive and affordable.
Instead of a patch of old highway land, we have much-needed office space that houses organizations like the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), which has helped more than 6,000 companies since 1999. And these companies are successful — since 2001, companies originally headquartered at CIC have raised more than $7 billion in venture capital and strategic investment.
The physical proximity to medical innovation and training with world-class academic institutions like Brown Medical School and the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College’s nursing program is an extraordinary benefit. With academic and corporate thought leaders nearby, the CIC strategically opened the Providence location, and there is no doubt other companies will follow suit.
Venture Café is also doing its part to provide networking opportunities where new ideas can come to life. The nonprofit organization runs District Hall, where there are weekly events for innovators and entrepreneurs to collaborate and create a collision of ideas and innovation.
The economic resources provided by the state and taxpayers to build Wexford are only one piece of the puzzle. Our ability to create an entire innovation ecosystem is how we best measure Wexford’s success.
Turning the Innovation and Design District into our state’s innovation hub is a long-term growth strategy, not a quick fix. I believe our investment in the Wexford building will be a cornerstone to decades of future economic growth. We owe it to ourselves to not criticize our significant accomplishment, but to join forces and create our own version of Silicon Valley or Kendall Square here in the heart of Rhode Island.
Tim Hebert is a member of the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the Tech Collective. He is the founder of Trilix and the former CEO of Atrion.