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Federal commerce official says redeveloping a former school building will attract new business


NEWPORT, Rhode Island — The transformation of a former school building not far from the harbor in Newport into a collaborative work environment will be a catalyst for the community, a federal official said Wednesday.

The Sheffield School building was one of a handful of sites throughout the state that U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams visited to see how the federal agency's investments have impacted the region and where it could provide more funding.

Williams was joined by Congressman David Cicilline, state Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Newport Mayor Jeanne Napolitano for the tour of the future "Newport Tech Works" facility. The city was awarded more than $1.6 million in grant funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration last year to redevelop the now-vacant space.

Williams said it was "no small feat" the city received the funding, noting that the agency gets dozens of proposals each year from cities across the country for projects aimed at boosting economic development.

"The investment we made here will bring companies in," Williams said.

State officials said they plan to transform the space into a collaborative work environment similar to the Cambridge Innovation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The project is slated for completion by September 2016.

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