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Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, left, and North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kristin Urbach speak during the “Advance RI Small Business” forum held Dec. 7 at the Carriage Inn & Saloon in North Kingstown.

Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee visited the Carriage Inn and Saloon Dec. 7 to host the first recording of his television show, “Advance RI,” in front of a live audience.

The show featured a panel discussion with North Kingstown Economic Development Manager Liz Dolan; Brewed Awakenings owner and President David Levesque; Vice President of Client Services for Commerce Rhode Island Liz Tanner; North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kristen Urbach; Gossip Boutique owner Janelle Feigley; and Michael McElroy of Schacht and McElroy. Brewed Awakenings has a location in Wakefield, while Gossip Boutique has a location in North Kingstown.

In an interview, McKee said he had chosen North Kingstown as part of his tour of the state due to its strong business community.

“North Kingstown has a really strong Chamber, and a number of small businesses, and at each visit I said I want to tape a show out of the studio and into a live setting, and Kristen offered it,” he said, praising Urbach. “North Kingstown was a really good place to start because we see that there’s a number of small businesses in North Kingstown, and they have a very active Chamber.”

During a public Q-and-A session, North Kingstown business owners criticized the state’s financial policies.

“The problem that we face is one, they just instituted a new mattress recycling program to us, which is another bureaucracy … we have legislature, we have X number of pieces of legislation appropriated and on the tail end, we have no image of laws coming off the books,” North Kingstown Town Council member Kerry McKay, who also owns McKay’s Furniture, told McKee. “We keep on piling on laws that are on the books without having any agenda to take old laws off the books. We’re still sending the same message out to businesses, that we’re the bottom tier but we could be the top tier if we took certain initiatives.”

McKay pointed out that a business had left the Lafayette Mill for another state because it did not have the incentives to stay in state. After McKay finished, there was applause from the room.

McKee responded by encouraging small business owners to take part in a restructured Small Business Council.

“We need to get out there and put out half a dozen things that may push against big business, but it’s an advantage for the small business owners, and I think it’s time we start supporting the small business owners in the state in a way that is really really calculated,” he said. “We’ve got to get the small business community to actually step up and start listing these things out and identifying them, and then we need to take votes on that advocacy council to support small business owners and then bring that to the General Assembly.”

McKay advocated for a flat tax on internet sales. McKee told McKay that that was a federal issue, to which McKay responded by urging him to advocate for it on a federal level.

Feigley agreed with McKay.

“What makes me want to continue operating business here, not only in Rhode Island but in three locations, and killing myself seven days a week and running around trying to be creative and constantly analyze my data and my customers and my demographics and have a ‘wow’ factor so I can compete with the internet?” she asked. “Why do I want to stay here? Why, because I love the state, but it’s certainly not for tax reasons or incentives or grants that are being driven our way. But with what Kerry has to say, I mean 10 years in business, these are the people that I think we need to be invested in. We are the risk-takers, we were the dreamers. Not all small businesses make it.”

narragansett@independent ri.com

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