• Majority of area businesses report ‘great and growing’ operations

    Sixty percent of surveyed storefronts in Newport and Bristol counties said they are thriving despite a scarce workforce, historic inflation and shortages with supply chains.

    The report by Connect Greater Newport, which is a public-private partnership launched in 2018 to support the region’s economic development, was released Dec. 28. The data was collected in October when representatives on behalf of the nonprofit organization visited 60 businesses in Barrington, Bristol, Jamestown, Middletown, Newport, Portsmouth and Tiverton. Local businesses in the survey included All Ashore Cottage Outfitters, Conanicut Gift Shop, Curiosity & Co., East Ferry Deli, General’s Crossing Brewhouse, Grapes & Gourmet, Latitude Jamestown, McQuade’s Marketplace, Secret Garden and TWC Home.

    According to the report, 36 of the 60 businesses (60 percent) said they were “great and growing,” and that trend was echoed in Jamestown where six of the 10 businesses gave that answer. The remaining four businesses said “good and steady.” Nobody chose the “slow and poor” option in Jamestown.

    As for the biggest problem facing the businesses, all 10 mentioned inflation and the cost of goods. Six of the businesses also pointed to frustration navigating red tape, and four said the workforce shortage also has been challenging. Access to financing, high rent and infrastructure (road and utilities) each received one vote. There was not one business that said access to reliable, affordable Internet was a problem.

    Even though it was not a choice, four businesses said they would like to see the municipal permitting process streamlined for special events, live music and staying open during the holidays.

    “Simplifying the permit process for events and permits to be open on holidays during the year is very time consuming for the retailer,” said a business owner.

    Another owner agreed. “The permit and license process is challenging in Jamestown. Along with the cost of having staff members helping with the process,” they said. “Simplify the permit policy.”

    As for what they like about operating in Jamestown, all 10 businesses pointed to the coastal location and their clientele. Two businesses mentioned the strong sense of community as an advantage.

    “Business has been steady due to increase of tourism and local clientele supporting businesses,” said one business owner.

    Another business owner suggested “building a brand” for Jamestown.

    “Getting Jamestown highlighted to the rest of the state, so people know what our island has to offer,” they said.

    Two teams interviewed the 10 businesses in Jamestown. Joan Goldstein and Susan Hackman, both from the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, comprised one of the teams. The other included Sarah Burke from East Bay Community Action and Ernie Carlucci, an associate director of policy for the Rhode Island Senate.

    Connect Greater Newport, which oversees economic development for the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce, will use the data to focus on ways to support the businesses. That includes “providing networking and programming to help businesses connect with each other and continue to offer professional and business development programs; collaborating with partners like the Rhode Island Department of Labor and educational institutions to advocate for an increase in apprenticeship, internship and training opportunities aimed at developing our workforce and talent pipeline; connecting businesses to e-commerce, marketing services and technical assistance programs; and showcasing the region through a talent retention and attraction campaign demonstrating why our area offers both a great quality of life and competitive business environment.”

    “Overall, businesses in the Greater Newport Region reported that they had a great 2022 peak season, and are growing, but they continue to face some challenges related to the tight labor market, inflation and supply chain shortages,” said Erin Donovan-Boyle, executive director of the chamber.

    Goldstein, who serves as the local chamber’s executive director, said the survey was “a great opportunity” to talk about the positive aspects, and the challenges, about doing business on Conanicut Island.

    “We don’t often get that time to actually sit down and talk to a business for a length of time,” she said. “For Jamestown, I thought the results were very optimistic. Despite some challenges, most of which were not surprising, businesses are doing well.”

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