WOONSOCKET â As part of his campaign to gather feedback from small businesses, Gov. Lincoln Chafee toured a family-owned print shop here Tuesday.
Accompanied by members of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, Chafee spent about 45 minutes at Sheahan Printing, where workers led him past clattering machines and pallets stacked with finished brochures, pamphlets and posters.
As third-generation owners Kevin and David Sheahan led him through the Front Street shop, the governor asked questions, nodded often and seemed genuinely interested in the challenges facing a company with just six workers.
Among the issues that arose in conversation were heavy-handed fire codes and regulations that limit the companyâs use of a freight elevator. Ironically, Sheahan prints the training manual for elevator inspectors.
Founded by the late Rodolph Sheahan, the grandfather of the current owners, the shop has been in business more than 100 years and does high-end print jobs for universities, private businesses and government agencies. Several palletsâ worth of commencement brochures for Johnson and Wales Universityâs upcoming graduation were among the jobs waiting to be shipped out.
âVery impressed,â the governor proclaimed after the tour was over.
âI like to get out and see companies,â he said. âYou never know how we can help.â
David Sheahan says the printing business comes with high overhead costs that make it very sensitive to government regulations and policies.
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âIâm impressed and grateful the governor took the time out of his busy schedule to pay us a visit,â he said. âOur industry is highly capital intensive to keep running. Every time any legislation is passed that is not pro-business we are potentially affected.â
John C. Gregory, president of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, said the tour was planned weeks ago and had already been postponed once. He said the governorâs staff asked the chamber to recommend a small business to tour and the chamber suggested Sheahan Printing because itâs such classic example of a successful mom-and-pop, the kind of business that often receives too little attention from government policy-makers and the legislature.
Typically, small companies like Sheahan are often bulwarks of the local community, yet theyâre often overlooked, precisely because theyâve managed to be productive and survive for so long as small independents.
âYou donât even know theyâre here and then you walk in and you see everything theyâre doing,â says Gregory. âI think sometimes if you stay in the office all the time all you get is one perspective.â
Ironically, Chafeeâs visit coincided with headlines about another kind of government help for business, $75 million worth of loan guarantees for ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schillingâs video game company, 38 Studios. Several reporters intercepted Chafee as he left Sheahan Printing to question him about reports that 38 Studios might be insolvent, leaving the state on the hook for the subsidy, but he offered few specifics on the companyâs financial condition.
As a candidate for governor, Chafee was against the controversial Schilling loan, portraying it as too heavy a bet on a risk-laden, unproven venture. But after he was elected Chafee said he became one of 38 Studioâs biggest cheerleaders.
âI have the exact same concerns I have here,â the governor said at the doorstep of Sheahan Printing. âWe want them to succeed.â
Chafee stopped at Sheahan before a private meeting with executives at CVS/Caremark, the cityâs largest employer and the nationâs largest pharmacy chain.
âNow thereâs a successful company,â he remarked at the end of the impromptu press conference.