Rhode Island small business printers are furious that the State of Rhode Island is giving Vistaprint $2.2 million in tax credits to open a sales office in Rhode Island and hire up to 125 employees.
“Why they didn’t they give me $2.2 million? I could use an addition on my building. I could hire another five people,” said Pat Welch at Sir Speedy in Cranston. “All the state’s ever done for me is take my money.”
On Wednesday, Governor Gina Raimondo, Commerce Secretary Stephan Pryor and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza celebrated the announcement of the deal to bring the company to Providence, but for many small businesses who are printers here, the deal is an insult to them.
“So I saw this announcement, and saw that these incentive dollars come after the employment,” said Barry Couto with Barrington Printing. “And I’m not saying this in regard to just printers, but to small businesses that are in Rhode Island, there just doesn’t seem to be much help to us in general.”
For Couto, his printing company is “a true family affair,” according to their website — Barrington Printing has nearly 30 employees, five of them family members
Outside versus In-State
RI Commerce has said it wants Rhode Island businesses to know that they have been aggressive in working to sustain and grow homegrown companies.
“The Commerce Corporation is intensively focused on helping Rhode Island businesses succeed. A number of Rhode Island companies – including A.T. Cross, Ocean State Job Lot, UNFI, and Greystone Manufacturing — have grown their businesses and added jobs by utilizing our investment and incentive programs,” said Matt Sheaff, spokesperson for the Commerce Corporation.
Raimondo has been enthusiastic about Vistaprint leveraging Rhode Island incentives to bring jobs to the state.
“I’m thrilled that Vistaprint Corporate has chosen Rhode Island for its national sales office. Rhode Island provides exactly what Vistaprint Corporate was looking for-access to talent, a high quality of life, fiscally responsible incentives to make our state competitive during its search and long-term potential for growth,” said Raimondo.
Commerce claims they have – and continue to – reach out to small businesses. “The Commerce Corporation also launched the Small Business Assistance Program to assist entrepreneurs and small businesses obtain access to capital. Over 5 million dollars is available through our six community lending partners, which to date has supported 18 businesses in communities throughout Rhode Island,” said Sheaff.
He also highlighted “Polaris, a partner of the Commerce Corporation and a joint state and federally funded program, works with companies to modernize their production and manufacturing processes. The Polaris team has assisted hundreds of small to medium sized companies, including those with printing operations.”
Contrasting Labor Numbers
On Thursday, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training reported that the state had lost jobs for the second consecutive month, but Raimondo said the state is having success creating manufacturing jobs.
“Earlier this week, I had a beer with a 94-year-old Pawtucket resident who spent more than three decades working at the Narragansett Brewery. We talked a lot about Rhode Island’s manufacturing tradition and the pride Rhode Islanders take in what they make. I’m determined to rebuild and reinvent manufacturing in Rhode Island, and I am encouraged by the latest data which shows we added close to 1,000 new manufacturing jobs last month,” said Raimondo.
Local printers, however, were less enthusiastic about the incentives for the Waltham, MA-based Vistaprint, which is owned by Cimpress, the mega-Dutch company. Cimpress is a $2 billion company.
“Tax incentives for new equipment, that type of thing [would help]. But it’s always luring people to the state, as opposed to giving incentives to companies that are already here,” said Couto.
“I don’t begrudge the competition. There are other printers here. You try and use your own savvy to get an edge and be the better choice,” said Couto. “From what I gather, [Vistaprint’s] direct competition with Moo — they have a lot of online purchasing. But I don’t know their business plan for the general area, or will they be mostly online still.”
“But in general I agree with other small business people, when we say how about looking at creative things for people who have already been here, paying taxes, employing Rhode Islanders,” said Couto. “Here at Barrington Printing, things are going well — we’re a printer, but we’ve had to expand out out to graphics, for promotional products, to get new revenue in this economy.”
Cranston’s Welch spoke to his own experience.
“I’ve been in business thirty years. We’re a franchise, we started in 1973, and I bought it in 1986,” said Welch, who said he employs around 20 people. “I make a good living, but business isn’t easy.”
“I don’t think that [Vistaprint] is big competition for us, as they’re internet-based, and most of what we do is [business to business],” said Welch. “My only concern is if they decide to go after business here, I did see where they’re hiring sales people.”
“They get all these incentives, and they don’t even have a building yet,” said Welch.
RI Wants Small Businesses
Sheaff said he encourages Rhode Island companies to reach out to Commerce to learn more about tools available them.
“Our client services division works daily with small and medium size Rhode Island businesses on streamlining licensing and permitting processes, cutting red tape, simplifying business-government interactions, etc,” said Sheaff. “The client services division has interacted with hundreds of businesses and would be eager to talk with and assist any Rhode Island business (number: 401-278-9100).”
Commerce also launched the Main Street Rhode Island Streetscape Improvement Fund which awarded six communities throughout Rhode Island nearly $1 million dollars to “enhance the front doors to business in our state: improve wayfinding and infrastructure, increase foot-traffic and pedestrian accessibility to commercial districts and beautify important streetscapes. And there is an additional $1 million to be awarded later this year.”