Intrastate movement: A zero-sum game?

Political signs for local elections scatter the well-kept lawns alongside Route 5 – also known as Greenville Avenue – a two-lane state highway in Johnston.

Robert V. Russo is running for re-election in District 4; Robert Civetti is vying for District 5.

Traveling north past Interstate 295, a variation of Romans 12:15 comes into view, mounted on a changeable letter board outside the Greater Rhode Island Baptist Temple: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

The scripture befits this mostly residential part of town, where Citizens Financial Group Inc., much to the chagrin of a group of local residents, has obtained the rights to build a 420,000-square-foot corporate campus on roughly 108 acres.

A half-mile west of the Baptist temple there already is evidence of development. Citizens excavated a more than 50-year-old capped dump that occupied a section of the land. The handful of nearby construction vehicles portend change for a neighborhood now dominated by ranch-style homes.

By 2018, more than 3,000 new employees will likely work there.

“We had to find that perfect place,” said Michael Knipper, executive vice president and head of property at Citizens. “We spent an enormous amount of time – well over a year – looking for a location and talking to towns. … Johnston happened to offer a complicated but fantastic site.”

The thought of so many new, daily commuters, however, has evoked outrage among Greenville Avenue residents, who say the augmented traffic volume will disrupt the quality of life in the historically residential part of town.

“It’s a mess,” said Claire Montecalvo, who lives across the street from the planned site. “There’s going to be more traffic than Atwood Avenue,” which is the main commercial strip that runs through town.

Headquartered in Providence, Citizens, the nation’s 13th largest retail bank, is one of several Rhode Island-based companies this year to announce a move from one municipality to another within the state. Each company’s reason is different, and how that company is welcomed into each community differs, but business leaders are always in search of an edge – be it better space or a more favorable tax deal – and will keep an eye out for such opportunities whenever they are available.

“There’s an ebb and flow of companies within a state that’s not unique to Rhode Island,” said R.I. Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor, who’s in charge of the state’s economic-development efforts.

Intrastate movement, however, raises questions about what type of value it adds to municipalities in a state eager to boost job creation and spur economic development. It also puts pressure on state officials – such as Pryor – to decide what type of resources should go toward preventing companies from leaving the state in search of a better deal.

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Read the full story at Providence Business News here.

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