Support a vibrant and just local food economy
Of critical importance is the fact that small businesses make up 98.9% of the total number of businesses in Rhode Island and employ over half (52.2%) of the private sector workforce. Food businesses make up 13% of small businesses (Restaurants, 5.4%; Retail, 3.1%; Farms, 3.1%). Food businesses are more likely than most sectors to be employer businesses rather than sole proprietors. The COVID-19 pandemic put enormous pressure on all small businesses, especially food businesses, and especially BIPOC-owned businesses. Many pandemic relief programs failed to reach these businesses, widening already existing gaps. But the pandemic also revealed – amidst supply chain pressures – the importance of food businesses in our local economy, notably in supporting access to fresh, healthy, affordable food for all Rhode Islanders.
Business ownership is a strategy for wealth creation, but women and people of color are underrepresented in business ownership. Women make up 48.6% of the small business workforce, but only 40.5% of business owners. For minoritized groups, the gap is even more pronounced (15.4% of employees, but only 8.1% of owners). Rhode Island Innovates 2.0 identified the small business succession crisis felt nationwide and acutely in Rhode Island. While 78% of small business owners are relying on selling their business to fund their retirement, only 30% have developed a succession plan. This presents both a pressing need and an opportunity for entrepreneurship through acquisition. Most second-stage food businesses (10-99 employees, $1MM-50MM revenue) are in the manufacturing sector. Second-stage businesses account for 35%+ of net new job growth in the state and represent an important area for investment in the growth of our economy.
The potential is there for Rhode Island to be an even better place to start, grow, and/or relocate food businesses.
- Support enhanced business technical assistance to food sector businesses, including start-up/micro businesses and second-stage food businesses
- Increase access to capital, e.g., by supporting the Local Agriculture & Seafood Act Grant Program and exploring the creation of a local Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI)
- Promote local food and related tourism under a unified brand message
- Increase local food processing capacity and support related infrastructure investments
- Connect Rhode Island products to institutional markets
- Invest in youth education, job training, and skilled workforce development for food sector careers