A Rhode Island Design Week?

That's one of the ideas that has come out of the Make It Happen RI effort.

There’s no shortage of design companies in Rhode Island. Over the past five years, more than 500 design companies have formed in the state and registered with Dun and Bradstreet. But the community is composed mostly of design companies made up of one to five people, and it’s highly fragmented, according to architect Christine West.

That’s why she and other designers in Rhode Island have launched DesignxRI, an effort to bring design professionals, from around the state together.

DesignxRI, which was announced at the Rhode Island Foundation’s Make It Happen RI breakfast Thursday, aims to showcase Rhode Island’s talent locally and nationally, help companies combine resources and create jobs. It’s one of twelve projects the foundation has committed to funding a total of $630,000 to help jump start the economy in the state.

Here’s what West and Philip Hawthorne, the president of AIGA Rhode Island, had to say about the effort:

West: “Design by Rhode Island is an initiative to create jobs for Rhode Island-based designers. We’re talking about a couple of different disciplines. We’re talking about interior design, industrial design, graphic design, landscape architecture, architecture. What they have in common, besides the word “design,” is that they’re all professional service-based. So the idea is to help existing businesses reach new markets. And we’re going to do this through business-to-business marketing. Now this is an industry that’s already here, but as you can imagine, it’s highly fragmented. We’re talking about firms that have between one and five people. So there are already thousands of firms in Rhode Island. And we know this: There are over 500 that registered with Dun and Bradstreet in the last five years as new firms. So being fragmented, you can imagine we lack the resources to reach these new markets beyond the region because these industries are largely based on word-of-mouth referrals.”

Hawthorne: “We see an opportunity to harness the resources of existing informal networks and professional organizations in the state to identify common obstacles to business growth in the sector and to find a collective strategy to overcome them. And this funding will let us map and create a framework of our common assets and competitive advantages across the design disciplines that are here. So this is a crystalizing of existing informal conversations that have already started to happen. A key target for us would be a fall event — real, digital or both — aimed at connecting clients to designers: a Providence Design Week or Rhode Island Design Week. We want to raise the profile and broadcast the strengths of design businesses beyond the borders of Rhode Island, with a goal to create more work and more jobs for local designers and to make Rhode Island the place to come for design.”

Some highlights of other new initiatives that received funding included:  

Shipbuilding. New England Institute of Technology is establishing a Shipbuilding/Marine and Advance Manufacturing Institute with help from a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The program will work to connect unemployed Rhode Islanders with marine and manufacturing partners, such as Electric Boat, Senesco Marine and the Rhode Island Marines Corporation.

Finishing school. The Rhode Island Partnership Project is working to address the skills gap of Rhode Islanders who want to complete a bachelor’s, associate’s or other certification, focusing on the 122,000 adults who didn’t finish high school.

Municipal upgrades. At least five Providence city buildings are slated to get environmental rehab as part of the Emerald Cities Project, which will also help low-income Rhode Islanders learn the building trade.

Connecting med and tech companies. MedMates is working to bring together professionals from  biotech, pharmaceutical, medical device, information technology, diagnostics, academic and government to collaborate.

Streamlining the permit process. Rhode Island’s state building commissioner and fire marshal are working on a statewide electronic permitting system to make the building and fire code process easier.

Marketing cities and expanding opportunity. The Rhode Island Black Business Association is working to implement economic development initiatives to spur urban development and market urban communities.

Angel investors. Ocean State Angels is bringing together doctors, scientists, engineers, executives and entrepreneurs to help grow the life sciences industry in Rhode Island.

Meeting space for entrepreneurs. The Hatch Entreprenurial Center on Weybosset Street in Providence will provide facilities like conference room and meeting spaces for companies in the first stages of startup. It's expected to open in May.