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Updated: 2016-12-08T05:14:25Z

 



UNFI reports decline in profit, but increase in salesUNITED NATURAL Foods Inc. reported a 3 percent decline in profit, but a 9.7 percent increase in sales in first-quarter results released on Wednesday.

2016-12-07T17:07:38-05:00

United Natural Foods Inc. reported a 3 percent decline in profit, but a 9.7 percent increase in sales in first quarter results released on Wednesday.

PROVIDENCE - United Natural Foods Inc. reported a 3 percent decline in profit, but a 9.7 percent increase in sales in first-quarter results released on Wednesday.

UNFI, a distributor of more than 100,000 products to more than 43,000 customers in the United States and Canada, said profit fell to $29.2 million, or 58 cents per diluted share, in the quarter that ended Oct. 29 compared with $30.1 million, or 60 cents per diluted share, during the year-ago period.

Sales grew to $2.3 billion from $2.1 billion.

"We are pleased with the progress we have made on our strategic initiatives, including the ongoing integration of our recent acquisitions and the sales reorganization, which was completed at the start of our first quarter," Steven L. Spinner, UNFI's president and CEO, said in a statement. "We believe these initiatives will enable us to continue to execute our strategy of building a national fresh distribution platform and capitalize on growth opportunities with new and existing customers in an operating environment that remains challenging due to deflationary pressures and competition."

The company in a press release said sales were positively impacted by the acquisitions of Haddon House Food Products Inc., Global Organic/Specialty Source Inc., Nor-Cal Produce Inc. and Gourmet Guru Inc.

Guidance for fiscal 2017 remains unchanged from previous guidance outlined in September. The company expects sales between $9.43 billion and $9.6 billion, an increase of 11.3 percent to 13.3 percent compared with fiscal 2016.

Earnings per diluted share are expected to be between $2.53 and $2.63 compared with fiscal 2016 earnings per diluted share of $2.50.


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32 Custom House St. renovation complete, to feature luxury apartments, gourmet doughnut shop THE INTERIOR of one of the luxury apartments inside the newly renovated 32 Custom House St. in Providence.

2016-12-07T17:07:56-05:00

The renovation of a historic building at 32 Custom House St. is completed and is fully leased, according to the New York-based development company.

PROVIDENCE - The renovation of a historic building at 32 Custom House St. is completed and is fully leased, according to the New York-based development company.

The five-story, former office building has been converted to a mixed-use structure with 10 luxury apartments on upper floors and a street-level retail space that has been leased to KNEAD Doughnuts, which in partnership with Bolt Coffee will sell gourmet doughnuts, pastries and coffee.

The retail opening is expected in December.

The apartments were fully leased within six weeks, according to a statement Wednesday from the development company, ASH NYC.

The same development team previously renovated the Dean Hotel in Providence.

The renovation of the J.G. Eddy & Company building was expected to include $2.4 million in renovation expenses, according to Washington Trust, which announced in February it would provide financing to the property owner.

Built in 1875, the building had most recently been law offices but was empty for several years before it was purchased by HM Ventures Group 7 LLC in November 2014.

The modern residences at 32 Custom House include unique amenities, such as a 'virtual doorman,' city and water views, historical details and access to a private roof terrace, she said. They were leased at monthly rents ranging from $1,650 to $2,900, an indication of the appetite for new apartments in Providence with historical features and modern amenities.

The architect for the 32 Custom House building renovation was Providence-based Kite Architects, in coordination with South Coast Improvement Co., of Marion, Mass.

The city of Providence granted a tax stabilization agreement to assist in the redevelopment, which will defer full taxation on the improvements for 12 years.

The project also will qualify for $482,000 in state historic preservation tax credits, according to the R.I. Division of Taxation.


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R.I. Foundation raises more than $7.8M to restore Roger Williams ParkRHODE ISLAND FOUNDATION President & CEO Neil D. Steinberg said, "Now is a crucial time in the life of the park. We are thankful for donors who have the vision to preserve it for decades to come."

2016-12-07T16:07:40-05:00

In the past year, the Rhode Island Foundation has received more than $3.3 million in new donations toward its $10 million campaign goal to restore Roger Williams Park, according to a statement made by the organization Wednesday.

PROVIDENCE - In the past year, the Rhode Island Foundation has received more than $3.3 million in new donations toward its $10 million campaign goal to restore Roger Williams Park, according to a statement made by the organization Wednesday.

To date, the foundation has raised $7.8 million toward its fundraising goal, as part of its year-long celebration of its centennial anniversary.

"Now is a crucial time in the life of the park. We are thankful for donors who have the vision to preserve it for decades to come," Foundation President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg said in a statement. "We look forward to working with other generous Rhode Islanders to make sure the park continues to be an economic driver and a place of community."

The largest donations over the past year came from The Champlin Foundations ($778,000), which has donated a total $1.9 million to the campaign, Amica Mutual Insurance Co. ($100,000), Ocean State Job Lot ($100,000) as well as the Norman & Rosalie Fain Family Foundation, the Haffenreffer Family Fund, the Murray Family Charitable Foundation and the Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund.

Since its launch in December 2015, more than 140 donors have contributed to the foundation's campaign, including initial major gifts made by the Carter Fund, the Peggy and Henry Sharpe Fund and the Rhode Island Foundation.

Improvements funded by the Rhode Island Foundation campaign will include renovating park entrances, new signage, expanded walkways and bicycle paths, repairs to the Museum of Natural History, the bandstand, the casino and the Temple to Music.

In addition, the Rhode Island Foundation's campaign will ensure future funding of the green space with a $5 million endowment through the Roger Williams Park Conservancy.

These improvements are made in addition to $3 million of work completed by the city of Providence to Roger Williams Park, which were made through a $53 million bond issued by Rhode Island voters in 2014.


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Weekly wages climb 3.4% in 2Q in Providence CountyPROVIDENCE County's average weekly wage in the second quarter was $993, $4 higher than the nationwide average and $44 higher than Rhode Island's average weekly wage, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

2016-12-07T16:07:28-05:00

Providence County's average weekly wage in the second quarter was $993, $4 higher than the nationwide average and $44 higher than Rhode Island's average weekly wage, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday.

PROVIDENCE - Providence County's average weekly wage in the second quarter was $993, $4 higher than the nationwide average and $44 higher than Rhode Island's average weekly wage, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday.

That's a 3.4 percent increase over the year for Providence County, ranking it 73rd for growth among the 344 largest counties in the U.S.

Among the 344 largest counties, 304 had over-the-year increases in average weekly wages. McLean, Ill., had the largest percentage wage increase among the largest U.S. counties at 21 percent, to $1,159. This was boosted by a 21 percent gain in financial activities wages.

An additional 36 counties experienced over-the-year decreases in average weekly wages, with Ventura, Calif., experiencing the largest percentage decrease in average weekly wages at 8.4 percent, to $986. Ventura's decline was led by a 34.4 percent decrease in manufacturing wages.

Nationwide, the average weekly wage increased 2.2 percent, or $21, over the year.

National employment totaled 142.7 million in June, increasing 1.5 percent.

Employment increased in 291 of the 344 largest counties, with Williamson, Tenn., reporting the largest percentage increase over the year at 6.7 percent. Midland, Texas, had the largest over-the-year percentage decrease in employment among the largest counties in the U.S., with a loss of 8.3 percent.

Providence County ranked 287th for its 0.1 percent increase in employment over the year in June, to 285,100.

Rhode Island experienced a 0.6 percent increase in employment over the time period to 482,900.


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STEP funding available for small businessesRHODE ISLAND small businesses interested in increasing exports and looking for assistance are encouraged to apply for federal State Trade Expansion Program funding.

2016-12-07T13:07:17-05:00

Rhode Island small businesses interested in increasing exports and looking for assistance are encouraged to apply for State Trade Expansion Program funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

PROVIDENCE - Rhode Island small businesses interested in increasing exports and looking for assistance are encouraged to apply for State Trade Expansion Program funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

STEP provides matching fund awards to states to assist small businesses in entering and expanding into international markets.

The John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University, in partnership with the R.I. Commerce Corp., has been awarded the $427,950 STEP grant for Rhode Island. This is the fifth year the center received the award and is looking for eligible small businesses to participate. The program launched Sept. 30 and will run through Sept. 29, 2017.

To participate in STEP, a company must be registered to do business in Rhode Island, meet the SBA definition of a "small business" and been in business at least one year.

The STEP grant can provide reimbursement for certain expenses related to projects designed to increase export sales. Eligible projects include participating in foreign trade missions, exhibiting at a foreign trade show, creating international marketing media, and participating in U.S. Commercial Service programs and export training.

Contact Linda Woulfe, STEP project director at the Chafee Center for International Business, at lwoulfe@bryant.edu or (401) 232-6525 for information.


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Citizens CEO excited about bank's future with Republicans in charge of government BRUCE VAN Saun, chairman and CEO of Citizens Financial Group Inc., is shown in his office at 1 Citizens Plaza in Providence.

2016-12-07T13:07:48-05:00

Bruce Van Saun, chairman and CEO of Citizens Financial Group Inc., is bullish about what impact a pro-growth, Republican-run U.S. government could have on the financial health of his bank in 2017.

PROVIDENCE - Bruce Van Saun, chairman and CEO of Citizens Financial Group Inc., is bullish about what impact a pro-growth, Republican-run U.S. government could have on the financial health of his bank in 2017.

Van Saun on Wednesday presented at the Goldman Sachs U.S. Financial Services Conference, noting the strong performance financial institutions have had in the market since Republican Donald J. Trump won last month's presidential election. The stock price for Citizens since then has increased 27.1 percent, opening Wednesday trading at $34.9 per share.

"Regional banks have had a nice run here since the election," he told investors. "I think it's a sanguine view of what a Republican government could do in a pro-growth economy."

A pro-growth agenda, Van Saun added, could translate into greater growth, higher rates and fewer regulation, which together could give banks a boost. The top executive is also paying close attention to what might happen with corporate tax reform, as a lower rate - proposed as part of Trump's tax plan - could translate into big-time savings for the bank.

"If you look at the domestic players, we pay a relatively high tax rate," he told investors.

When asked about other regulatory reforms, Van Saun said improving economic conditions - specifically maintaining 3 percent gross domestic product growth - would likely have a greater impact on the financial health of banks. But he does hope there's some type of reform to the Dodd-Frank Act - implemented following the financial crisis of 2008 - that acknowledges the differences between regional players and national and global banks. Doing so, he said, could bring some respite to compliance-related expenses for regional banks.

"[We] should be differentiated from the big banks," he said.

Citizens, with $147 billion in assets, bills itself as the 12th largest U.S.-based retail bank. Van Saun, who took over at the bank in 2013, touched on a number of other topics during the presentation, including the fact that the asset-sensitive bank has successfully spun off from its former parent The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC while maintaining positive operating leverage in a low-rate environment. And while Citizens under his tenure has outperformed peers in several areas, the CEO would like to see the company boost its fee-based income, where it ranks the lowest among peers.

Van Saun, along with the entire financial services industry, is also closely watching the Federal Reserve's policy meeting this month, as there's an industry expectation that interest rates could increase, which would likely further boost bank performance.

Despite all the positive signs, however, Van Saun cautions against getting too bullish, saying it's important the bank continues with its current approach of growing independently of external forces.

"It's still early days and we have to see how things play out," he added.


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Raimondo orders changes after troubled UHIP rolloutGOV. GINA M. RAIMONDO announced several actions on Wednesday to improve United Health Infrastructure Project-related services

2016-12-07T12:07:30-05:00

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo ordered several actions on Wednesday to improve United Health Infrastructure Project-related services three months after the integrated eligibility software system was rolled out and problems such as long wait times and errors continue.

PROVIDENCE - Gov. Gina M. Raimondo ordered several actions on Wednesday to improve United Health Infrastructure Project-related services three months after the integrated eligibility software system was rolled out and problems such as long wait times and errors continue.

She expanded Saturday hours to state Department of Human Services offices in Pawtucket and Warwick, and also directed the state agency to start the process to hire 35 additional staff on a temporary basis to process pending applications.

Raimondo acknowledged residents' ongoing frustration and outlined steps intended to stabilize the new system and end complaints about the long wait times, system errors and isolated incidents of customers' services being disrupted.

"While we experienced no major issues with the Dec. 1 payments, Rhode Islanders across the state, including me, remain frustrated that people who count on our social service programs continue to experience long waits at our field offices and we continue to encounter system issues which dampen the customer experience," Raimondo said in a statement. "No Rhode Islander should have to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary waiting in line, especially during the holidays. I'm ordering immediate actions to help improve customer service and strengthen oversight of DHS workflows. I will continue to hold the entire team - including our vendor - accountable, and I am prepared to take additional actions if we do not see results quickly."

Saturday hours will be offered starting this week from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Pawtucket and Warwick locations. DHS already offers extended weekday hours on Mondays and Wednesdays and Saturday hours at the Providence and Woonsocket offices.

Raimondo has also deployed managers from other state agencies to help improve customer service: Tom Guthlein has been appointed acting associate director of program operations at DHS to oversee this team.

The new, single system replaced multiple software systems, nearly all of which were more than 30 years old. While some challenges were anticipated as staff and customers adapted to the new process, there have been a number of reports about increased wait times and issues involving the system's software, according to information from the governor's office.

Raimondo also demanded that Deloitte Consulting, which was hired by the state as UHIP's lead technology vendor, provide additional management staff at no extra cost to taxpayers.

As part of the rollout, approximately 70 DHS employees were laid off, although most transferred into positions at DHS and the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, resulting in 15 total job losses, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration said.


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R.I. again in top 10 for percentage of noncurrent loansRHODE ISLAND tied with Maine for having the seventh highest percentage of noncurrent loans in October at 7.3 percent, according to Black Knight Financial Services.

2016-12-07T11:07:19-05:00

Rhode Island had the seventh-highest percentage of noncurrent home loans in October at 7.3 percent, Black Knight Financial Services said this week.

PROVIDENCE - Rhode Island had the seventh-highest percentage of noncurrent home loans in October at 7.3 percent, Black Knight Financial Services said this week.

Missouri again led the U.S. for its percentage of noncurrent loans, which combine foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies as a percent of active loans, at 11.2 percent, followed by Louisiana at 10.2 percent; New Jersey, 8.1 percent; Alabama, 7.9 percent; and New York and West Virginia, which each had percentages of 7.8 percent.

Rhode Island tied with Maine at 7.3 percent.

While Rhode Island's percentage is still high, it is an improvement from last year, as it fell 18.2 percent from October 2015.

The average for noncurrent loans was 5.3 percent nationwide in October.

North Dakota again had the lowest percentage of noncurrent loans at 2.2 percent. New Hampshire had the lowest percentage among the New England states, coming in 14th lowest at 4.5 percent.


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Seven R.I. schools named 2017 Military Friendly SchoolsNEW ENGLAND Institute of Technology has earned the 2017 Military Friendly School designation by Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs, Military Spouse and other military publications.

2016-12-07T11:07:00-05:00

Seven colleges and universities in Rhode Island have earned 2017 Military Friendly School designations by Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs, Military Spouse and other military publications.

PROVIDENCE - Seven colleges and universities in Rhode Island have earned 2017 Military Friendly School designations by Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs, Military Spouse and other military publications.

The following schools were recognized: Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, New England Institute of Technology, Providence College School of Continuing Education, Rhode Island College, Salve Regina University and the University of Rhode Island.

In addition, Empire Beauty School in Warwick was deemed eligible for the designation.

Military Friendly Schools, first published in 2009, is a resource for veterans pursuing higher education.

Institutions earning the Military Friendly School designation were evaluated using public data sources and responses from Victory Media's proprietary survey.

More than 1,700 schools participated in the 2017 survey; 1,273 were awarded the designation. Final ratings were determined by combining the institution's survey scores with the assessment of the institution's ability to meet thresholds for student retention, graduation, job search assistance, loan repayment, persistence and loan default rates for all students and, specifically, for student veterans.

Many employers contact the Career Services Office at New England Institute of Technology seeking graduates for job opportunities, according to a news release about the designation from NEIT.

Patricia Blakemore, director of career services stated, "Our military students and graduates are highly prepared for the job market through the education they receive at New England Tech coupled with their military training. These individuals are one of the most sought after group of candidates by prospective employers."

For information about NEIT's commitment to attracting and supporting military students, visit at neit.edu/military.

The 2017 Military Friendly Schools will be featured in the annual Guide to Military Friendly Schools, special education issues of G.I. Jobs and Military Spouse Magazine, and on militaryfriendly.com.


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Disney's quest to find the next FrozenDISNEY PRINCESS dolls are shown for sale. Frozen, in particular, was a winner on store shelves.

2016-12-07T09:07:47-05:00

Walt Disney Co.'s Frozen, a fantasy tale of a snow queen coming to grips with her icy powers, was a stunning winner on store shelves. NEW YORK - Walt Disney Co.'s Frozen, a fantasy tale of a snow queen coming to grips with her icy powers, was a stunning winner on store shelves. Years after the film's release, children are still squealing for pretty dolls, kiddie karaoke machines, and tiny ice palaces. There are board games, Play-Doh sets, and upholstered chairs featuring its animated stars. You can even get behind the wheel of a $299 Frozen mini Jeep Wrangler. Really. Of course, the media giant would love to replicate that success. In November, Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said he expected the studio's next animated release, Moana, to join its "pantheon of recent hits." To an extent, it's accomplished that goal, topping box office rankings the first two weekends and quickly grossing almost $200 million worldwide. Meanwhile, there are lots of Moana toys in stores--;but they're mostly figurines and adventure play sets. No jeeps to be found. "There's quite a bit of product out there," said Jim Silver, a toy industry veteran who runs the website Time to Play. "But it's not a Frozen. Very few properties are Frozen." Box office success doesn't always translate into merchandising success. Silver points to Finding Nemo, Pixar's 2003 animated epic about a lost clownfish, which made almost $1 billion at theaters worldwide, more than double the haul from Cars three years later. He estimates Cars raked in about 25 times the merchandise sales Nemo did, despite the box office gap. It's simple: Kids want toy hot rods and racetracks more than stuffed fish. Seeing as it's now holiday shopping season, parents may want to take note. When it comes to competing with Frozen, Moana doesn't seem to have the mighty drawing power of Elsa, Frozen's heroine, with her hit songs, sister Anna's love story, and the fun characters surrounding them both. Rather, Moana is more like Brave, an original story starring the fiery-haired Merida and her bow and arrow. Auli'i Cravalho's Moana has a paddle and a canoe to spur her adventures while Maui, her demigod pal voiced by Dwayne Johnson, totes around his magical fish hook. None of those things are a match for, say, a glimmering ice castle dollhouse. No one really expected Moana to compete with Frozen. Frozen debuted in late 2013 and was immediately deemed a hit, though industry experts didn't expect that, either. But no one--;including Disney--;had anticipated the mad rush for merchandise. Of course, Elsa turned out to be hugely popular. But so were Anna and her love interest Kristof. Even the sidekick snowman Olaf had a following. With a musical's soundtrack anchored by Broadway star Idina Menzel's Let It Go to keep the movie in the public's consciousness (the official sequence has more than 500 million views on YouTube; a sing-along version has almost 1 billion), Frozen enjoyed uncanny staying power at theaters before shifting to televisions everywhere. Overwhelmed, Disney struggled to keep up with demand for Frozen toys in 2014. In 2015, sales of Frozen merchandise jumped tenfold and kept momentum into the next year. Piper Jaffray analysts estimated earlier this year that Frozen has brought in a stunning $6 billion in merchandise sales. "Disney was as surprised as anybody by the heights that Frozen soared," said Marty Brochstein, an executive at the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association. "When Frozen first came out, there wasn't much merchandise out there. Disney and retailers spent the next year playing catch-up." Hasbro Inc., the Pawtucket, R.I.-based toymaker, is the biggest benefactor of Disney's movie merchandising, riding the wave of Disney Princess and Frozen goods. It muscled the Disney Princess doll business away[...]


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