RI Senate approves Chafee's pick to lead EDC

Rhode Island's Economic Development Corp. has a new leader after the state Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved Gov. Lincoln Chafee's pick to head the agency, still reeling from its failed investment in former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company.

Immediately following his Senate confirmation, new Executive Director Marcel Valois told The Associated Press that he understands the state's economic problems have no simple answers. He said he'll begin his new role Wednesday with conversations with private business owners.

"My first 90 days I want to visit 90 businesses," he said. "I want to get the current heartbeat."

Valois is no stranger to the job. He served as executive director in the 1990s under former Gov. Lincoln Almond.

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

The EDC has been without a permanent director since last year, when then-executive director Keith Stokes resigned after facing questions about the $75 million loan guarantee to Schilling's 38 Studios. The company filed for bankruptcy in June.

The state is suing Schilling, other 38 Studios executives and some former economic development officials, saying the agency's board was misled into approving the guarantee.

In the wake of 38 Studios' collapse, state lawmakers and some outside groups have introduced legislation that would eliminate the EDC and create a new Rhode Island Commerce Corp. Valois said he will stay out of the debate over the agency's future, but said he knows work needs to be done to overcome the legacy of 38 Studios.

"Clearly, there were a lot of lessons learned from 38 Studios," he said. "My job is to make sure we do everything we possibly can to prevent that from happening (again)."

The Senate vote to confirm Valois was 36-0. Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said Valois served with distinction during his first stint as EDC chief.

"Marcel is smart. He is very sensitive to the needs of our state," Algiere said. "The governor made a great choice."

Chafee's first pick for the position, long-time agency official William Parsons, withdrew in February for health reasons. On Tuesday, Chafee said Valois was the right man for the job, citing his experience in the private and public sectors.