RI gov brings back ex-economic development chief

Erika Niedowski, Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Monday nominated a former executive director of Rhode Island's economic development agency from the 1990s to lead it again as it rebuilds after a disastrous loan guarantee to former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's now-bankrupt video game company.

Chafee announced he had picked Marcel Valois for a second stint at the helm of the troubled Economic Development Corp. Valois served in the same role from 1995 to 1997 under former Republican Gov. Lincoln Almond.

He is now vice president of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island.

"We have been working hard to transform the RIEDC into an organization that is focused on helping existing Rhode Island businesses — particularly small businesses — succeed and grow," Chafee, who serves as board chairman of the Economic Development Corp., said in a statement. "Marcel Valois is a proven business leader. He understands economic development, he understands Rhode Island and he shares my commitment to taking advantage of Rhode Island's assets to strengthen our economy."

If the Senate confirms Valois, he would take over at the economic development agency at a difficult time. The quasi-public job creation agency, whose board in 2010 approved a $75 million loan guarantee for Schilling's 38 Studios, came under fire last year after the startup video game company filed for bankruptcy. Its collapse has left the state on the hook for about $100 million related to the deal.

Valois said Monday that having served at the agency before would allow him to hit the ground running, but stressed he also would bring fresh eyes to the work.

"I think everybody grows through experience. We had a very good run with Gov. Almond in the mid-'90s. Exciting things happened," he told The Associated Press. "I think I bring in a fresh perspective that I didn't have 15 or 20 years ago. Just because you're older doesn't mean you can't be innovative."

Valois declined to discuss 38 Studios other than to say Chafee has taken steps to improve the way the Economic Development Corp. does business.

"I think the governor has made some significant steps over the last year or so in changing the way EDC acts, and I think over time we will surely change the perception," he said.

Outside groups have called for an overhaul of the agency, and state lawmakers are considering various proposals to reform it. One bill would rename it the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. and create a new code of ethics and mission statement. The legislation also calls for regular audits of the agency.

Chafee said that Valois, while at the agency in the 1990s, spearheaded the development of a master plan for what is now the Quonset business park and led the state's negotiating team for the development of the Providence Place Mall. Chafee also credited Valois with recruiting Fidelity Investments to Rhode Island.

Valois is a former chief operating office and area vice president for Penske Automotive Group. He also served as an executive at the Blackstone Valley Development Foundation and director of planning and development for the city of Woonsocket.

Chafee's first pick for the position, long-time agency official William Parsons, withdrew in February for health reasons.