A Q&A with Paul Harden, 2022 Rhode Island State Star winner


Every year, the more than 60 Small Business Development Centers across the nation come together to choose a State Star. These are the individuals working hard to ensure the prosperity of small businesses in their local communities and are, overall, an example of excellence. This year’s 2022 Rhode Island State Star is a long-time Newport resident, marine industry expert, and RISBDC Director of the Greater Newport Region, Paul Harden. 

We caught up with Paul this month to learn more about his important work. 

1. Of all the ways you’ve contributed to small business owners in the Ocean State, what are you most proud of?

It’s tough to narrow it down to a single moment, but what I can tell you is, each time I attend a new business opening, take in the smiling faces, I reflect on my minor role in their enormous success. Nothing beats it because you realize, for many people, this is their dream. The work I get to do comes with a sense of self-satisfaction knowing you’re doing something that has a significant impact on livelihoods. 

2. How did your expertise in the marine industry show up in your work with the RISBDC?

The biggest benefit is I understand the terminology and have the right connections in the industry which is important in our state. I’m on several boards related to the marine industry and most of them had a successful year, but the marine services are hurting for people, just like so many other industries. This directly translates into how much business they can do. 

3. At the RISBDC, you focus on Newport County. What exciting things are happening in the small business community there?

Labor shortages aside, it was a wonderful summer for the hospitality businesses here. There is a high level of interest in the county as seen through its new hotels and restaurants openings. For example, I’m currently working with a person looking to open an event space, a bed-and-breakfast, and several other clients looking to open new businesses. The biggest change I’d say is the recent major sale and rebranding of Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina which renamed itself to Newport Harbor Island Resort. There is a multi-million dollar investment going into that project. 

4. If you had one piece of advice for a small business owner, what would you tell them?

Know your customer and listen to them. A lot of businesses say, “everybody is my customer.” Well, not really. To make the most of your marketing budget or your product offerings, deeply understanding your key customers is going to help your business succeed. This means knowing where your customers are. Are they on social media? Do they live in certain parts of town? What do they like and dislike? How does your business help them? These are all questions that can support your business decisions. 

5. What is a lesson you keep close that impacts the small business work you do today?

At RISBDC we serve an extensive variety of clients, and the learning is endless in my role. One day you’re working with a restaurant, the next day you’re working with someone selling Lego blocks, and the next day you’re working with someone who wants to sell a fishing boat. Above all, the most important thing to remember is, no matter what, you always need to treat their business idea with your undivided attention and support.

The Rhode Island Small Business Development Center employs a dedicated, experienced, and knowledgeable staff of business counselors and administrators who can assist you in growing your business. Register now for free, confidential business advice from our advisors here, call (401) 874-7232 to make a counseling appointment, or attend one of our free webinars.