Rhode Island Business Leaders Express Cautious Optimism About Economy During Annual Forum Hosted by Santander Bank and Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce

Real-time survey uncovers that over 80% believe the state’s economy will be about the same, or in better shape a year from now.

Santander Bank, N.A. (“Santander” or “the Bank”) and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce today hosted their 21st Economic Outlook Breakfast for Rhode Island’s business community. Approximately 300 people gathered at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, Rhode Island for the event, which gives business, education, healthcare, government and community leaders a forum to discuss the economy and changing dynamics of Rhode Island.

Given the current supply chain landscape and growing emphasis on nearshoring, this year’s panel of economic experts and local business leaders focused on how businesses can reduce supply chain disruptions and increase sustainable business practices overall. The panel included Eva Mancuso, Director, John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University, Stephen Stanley, Chief U.S. Economist, Santander US, Karl Wadensten, President & CEO, VIBCO Vibrators, and Ted Williams, President, Senesco Marine.

“Our purpose is to help people and businesses prosper. We’re committed to working with the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, as well as business and elected leaders in leveraging Rhode Island’s considerable strengths and promoting a more vibrant, innovative, diverse and inclusive economy,” said Michael Lee, Senior Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Commercial Banking at Santander Bank. “Rhode Island has key advantages that make it attractive for businesses and the talent they need to be successful, including an ideal transportation infrastructure to support local and international business. Santander’s position in the U.S. and global presence and scale is critically important to our customers that are looking to grow their businesses during current economic conditions, expand internationally, and bring their supply chains closer to the U.S.”

Santander Bank pioneered new solutions to help small to mid-size middle market clients navigate trade, find alternative suppliers and introduce them to global buyers and sellers interested in their products. This includes Trade Club Alliance, a unique global network of banking groups that connect businesses with potential partners in new, international markets and offer a wealth of relevant trade expertise.

Lee, along with Laurie White, President, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, provided welcome remarks, followed by introductions from Governor Dan McKee and Tim Wennes, Santander US CEO and Santander Bank President & CEO. Attendees then responded to a series of economic and business climate-related questions during a real-time survey that revealed their perspectives around the economic challenges that Rhode Island faces, as well as the opportunities for development.

Economic Outlook

  • Over 70% of business and civic leaders surveyed believe the U.S. economy will be about the same, or in better shape over the next 12 months.
  • Thinking only about the Rhode Island economy over the same time period, over 80% believe the economy will be about the same, or in better shape.

Business Perspective

  • Almost half of leaders said their business is in better shape compared to one year ago, and when asked about the future outlook of their business, over 60% said they expect it to be in better shape a year from now.
  • Revenue and sales growth (39%), acquiring talent and managing labor costs (27%) and regulatory requirements (13%) are the top challenges leaders believe they will face over the next 12 months.
  • Leaders remain neutral about the importance of having an ESG framework in place over the next 12-24 months, with nearly 30% of leaders report it being an important aspect of their business.
  • More than 40% of leaders said their capital expenditure spending plans in 2024 will remain unchanged, while 31% cite an increase for this year. These results echo hiring plans – over half said that there will be no changes in their workforce over the next year, while 34% are planning for a slight increase in hiring.

Supply Chain and Expanding Markets

  • The majority of business leaders do not currently engage in global trade, while almost 45% of leaders said that global markets are important to their business, and 14% report it to be extremely important.
  • The top three geographies businesses are currently using as part of their supply chain or part of their export strategy are Europe, including the United Kingdom (23%), Asia, including China, Taiwan and South Korea (19%), and Canada (15%).
  • In regard to supply chain changes, almost half (46%) of business leaders have not changed key vendors and are not planning changes.

The economic outlook and guarded optimism of the Rhode Island business community aligns with Santander US market research that recently revealed financial optimism is increasing across middle-income households, as concerns about inflation and a possible recession are easing. Three in four middle-income Americans say they are on the right track toward financial prosperity. In addition, 80% believe they will achieve financial prosperity in the next 10 years.

“For over two decades, this forum has provided a space for Rhode Island’s business and civic leaders to come together and discuss timely matters impacting the local and regional communities. We truly value our long-standing partnership with Santander and the banking solutions and capabilities they bring to the great businesses in our state,” said Laurie White, President, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. “This year’s theme of supply chain resilience has become an increasingly important topic, and we look forward to continuing this discussion throughout the year and connecting our members to new business opportunities.”

DISCLAIMER: The survey results expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of Santander Bank, N.A. and are not intended to represent Santander Bank, N.A.’s position on any of the issues referenced therein.

Santander Bank, N.A. is one of the country’s leading retail and commercial banks, with $102 billion in assets. With its corporate offices in Boston, the Bank’s more than 5,100 employees and more than 1.8 million customers are principally located in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Bank is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Madrid-based Banco Santander, S.A. (NYSE: SAN), recognized as one of the world’s most admired companies by Fortune Magazine in 2024 and world leader in renewable energy financing, with approximately 166 million customers in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. It is overseen by Santander Holdings USA, Inc., Banco Santander’s intermediate holding company in the U.S. For more information, please visit www.santanderbank.com/us/commercial.

The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce is Rhode Island’s only statewide chamber of commerce. We are the hub of connections for Rhode Island businesses of all sizes, in all industries and in all sectors. We connect business professionals with peers who can provide real-time, actionable advice to help with significant issues like managing growth, finding the right talent, and knowing when and how to innovate. You won't find that commitment to connectivity anywhere else in the state. Our mission is to ensure every GPCC member is prepared to become or continue to be a thriving Rhode Island business. Learn more at www.provchamber.com.


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