Workshops at Innovate Newport Dive into Our State’s Blue Economy

A summer series unpacks what’s on the horizon for an ocean-centric job market

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It’s not just a nickname – being the Ocean State is interwoven with Rhode Island’s economy. With over 400 miles of rugged coastline, the state’s identity is tied to the sea. Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean support a major sector of the local economy, providing resources, jobs, and scenic vistas as stunning as anywhere in the world.

This is why Innovate Newport is hosting Blue and You, a series of workshops running every Thursday through August 18, co-sponsored by the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce. The speaker series is intended to educate the public on what’s known as the blue economy. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Pete Rumsey, chief business development officer at the URI Research Foundation – who helped coordinate the series – offers this definition: “The blue economy is one that is, at its core, economically resilient, environmentally sustainable, and centered on equitable economic development.” This description differs somewhat from previous definitions that centered around fossil fuels, maritime shipping, and tourism.

Rumsey explains how the state and private industry are working together to foster these ideas.

“About five or six years ago, I went to work for [former] Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor to help create innovation campuses, a partnership between the state of Rhode Island, URI, and private industry. A little over a year ago, we really put our minds to creating a blue technology innovation campus – everything about the ocean. We created a strategy and a road map for an ocean or a blue tech innovation campus.”

The goal of the partnership is to position Rhode Island as a leader in the ocean economy. “Rhode Island is the Ocean State and has been for a long time,” says Rumsey. “We have a long history starting with the Industrial Revolution. Beyond that, the Navy has a presence here with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Naval War College. There’s also a NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] office, and URI has one of the most preeminent oceanography schools in the country. We also have the nation’s first and only operational offshore wind farm.”

So what does all this mean for the region? Jobs – lots of them. The plan focuses on modern industries and expects to bring over 50,000 new jobs to the state. 

“We outlined seven different sectors for the blue economy where jobs will be created,” continues Rumsey. “Traditionally you had things like ships, ports, and tourism, and the maritime trades like boatbuilding. We really want to stress sustainable fisheries, and we added other notable industries like offshore renewable energy. Right now, that means wind turbines, some solar, and in the future, wave power. The second industry we added was aquaculture; we have a growing number of aquaculturists who are growing oysters and soon probably scallops as well. Those are some of the new types of jobs that exist there.”

Rumsey estimates doubling the number of high-paying jobs that presently exist in the industry. “The whole idea of the workshops is to educate the community about what the blue economy is, what the jobs look like, so people can learn how to get those jobs, or how their kids or grandkids can get those jobs.” 

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