Many Newport businesses rely on summer profits to carry them through the rest of the year. But in 2020, COVID-19 restrictions put a damper on the season. That’s why business owners say the stakes of next summer are even greater.

The coalition Restore Greater Newport, which is a partnership between private and public entities in the Newport region, formed a task force last year dedicated to mitigating the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

With summer fast approaching, the task force has released a series of recommendations for economic recovery.

“Planning for the coming season must begin now so that our businesses, event planners, wedding hosts, travelers, and consumers can begin making plans to support the recovery of our economy,” said Erin Donovan-Boyle, the executive director of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce.

Restore Greater Newport’s six new recommendations include a proposed one-year pause on any new legislation or regulations that would increase costs or create administrative hassles for small businesses.

“It’s not time for costly mandates,” said Donovan-Boyle. “Many small businesses, including restaurants, hotels, and venues remain on the brink of closure. And an additional regulatory burden could push them over the edge.”

The task force’s other recommendations include calling on Rhode Island officials to continue funding the Real Jobs RI training program, and work with business associations and municipal leaders to allocate federal stimulus money. Restore Greater Newport is also asking the state to develop a clear reopening plan for conferences and special events, and allocate state funding for marketing to attract regional tourists.

Evan Smith, the CEO of Discover Newport, said predictability will be crucial for a successful summer — despite continued uncertainty around where vaccinations and COVID-19 infection rates will stand by then.

“Otherwise we’re going to continue to suffer from cancelations, which is a big problem for our industry right now,” Smith said. “We’ve moved conferences, we’ve moved weddings, we’ve moved events — so many times that the frustration level is very high. And so we really need to work together with state leadership to get together the guidance that will help us remain competitive in the tri-state area.”

Donovan-Boyle noted that swift economic recovery is particularly important because many of the people who have been impacted by COVID-related layoffs and closures were already among the most “economically vulnerable” workers in Newport before the pandemic hit.

“We can’t wait anymore,” she said. “The federal stimulus dollars are coming. The season is coming. We need to have a plan, and our businesses need to be able to plan.”


Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. She can be reached at antonia@thepublicsradio.org