New steel pilings are being erected to replace old wooden pilings from 1942, including one in the foreground at Pier 1 at the Port of Davisville at Quonset Point on April 6, 2023. (Photo by Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)
Amid the economic destruction wrought by the pandemic, a 3,200-acre stretch of waterfront land in North Kingstown thrived.
So much so that economists upgraded their projections for how many jobs – and in turn, tax revenue – Quonset Business Park will generate by 2030 – from 15,000 to 16,700, according to a new report published on Tuesday.
The secret to success? Public investment, through federal and state funding along with money from Quonset Development Corp. (QDC), the quasi-public agency that oversees the business park.
“We need a strong private sector, but it is the public sector that is enabling that investment from the private sector,” said Edinaldo Tebaldi, a Bryant University economics professor who prepared the report in tandem with QDC. “That’s the recipe we have to keep us moving forward.”
And that forward path looks promising, with just over 82 acres of land under negotiation or agreement for development, and another 157 acres up for grabs, according to the report. The promise of up to 3-million-square-feet of new construction also positions the business park to increase its direct job count by more than 3,000 – from the current 13,000 to 16,700 by the end of the decade. This would be accompanied by 13,000 indirect jobs created across the state as a result of activities within the park, according to the report.
It is thanks to this multiplier effect– a term used to refer to the broader effects of an economic outcome – that the business park is considered a statewide triumph, or in the words of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a “gem.”
“We don’t have many of those types of operations on the East Coast,” Ruggerio said. “With everything that’s going on with wind turbines, there’s a lot of potential.”
Indeed, the business park will play a crucial role in the nascent offshore wind industry, with a $50 million construction project underway to ready the 60-acre port for offshore wind vessels. That’s on top of private investment by offshore wind developers Orsted A/S and Eversource Energy, which have begun preparing a site within the port where they will house five crew transfer vessels used to take construction crews and maintenance technicians to and from the offshore turbines. The developers have also promised another $35 million on upgrades to the Quonset Port if their proposal for a second offshore wind farm bringing power to Rhode Island – Revolution Wind 2 – is selected by the state.
While development projects statewide, including a new marine terminal on the East Providence waterfront, have slowed amid supply chain snags and inflationary price hikes, Quonset has not suffered the same fate. In fact, the state is fast-tracking its $60 million allocation of federal stimulus funds for the park and port – originally spread out over four years but now concentrated in the fiscal 2023 and fiscal 2024 budgets, according to Steven King, QDC managing director.
While offshore wind and the surrounding blue economy have become buzzwords among state leaders, King stressed the business park’s strength in accommodating many different types of industries. The 220 companies that call the park home range from food services and technology to healthcare, transportation and manufacturing.
The port is also among the top 10 auto importers in North America, taking in more than 200,000 cars per year as of 2022.
And as the state looks to make a name for itself in the life sciences industry, King also sees a role for Quonset, especially when it comes to lending expertise in developing industrial-ready sites that can attract big-name private sector companies.
Leveraging modernizing and improving infrastructure at the business park is one of the keys to its success,” King said. “Quonset has become one of the most successful business parks in the entire nation.”
Successful not just to the companies it houses, but the workers and taxpayers who benefit from its economic output. The 13,850 full time jobs as of 2022 mark 18.7% growth since 2018 – the last time an economic impact report was published. Meanwhile tax revenues from these jobs rose 31.3% over the same time frame, to $169.1 million in 2022, the bulk of which came from property and sales taxes.
Gov. Dan McKee also highlighted the pay of these positions, which is on average 10% above the state median wages – $69,656 versus $62,656.
“One of our top three priorities is to raise family incomes,” McKee said. “That’s what’s happening at Quonset.”
Including direct and indirect economic impacts, the park provides $5.9 billion in economic output each year, equal to 8.3% of the state’s gross domestic product. By 2030, that output is projected to rise to $7.2 billion, according to the report.
The report, which is available online, draws upon state and federal employment data as well as information from QDC and the Rhode Island National Guard.
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