Occupying 1300 hectares on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay on the site of two former naval bases, Quonset Business Park is humming with activity. Surrounded by green land and its Atlantic eastern flank, with a name believed to be a Native American word for ‘small long place’, Quonset is a pillar of growth and production for the state. Welcoming visitors to the park, David Preston, founder of Rhode Island marketing agency New Harbor Group, says: “Let’s see what 11,000 jobs looks like.”
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This is not an exaggeration. Since the 1980s, more than 200 companies have established themselves at Quonset across a range of sectors. Manufacturing accounts for 53% of Quonset jobs, while wholesale, retail, transportation and warehousing, health, and even the state’s National Guard comprise many others.
Many different tenants
A 15-minute drive will take visitors across a shipyard, international engineering companies, plastics and polymer film manufacturers, book publishers, seafood processors, vast auto lots for Porsche, Ford and Volkswagen, retail shopping space, chemical plants, and even a marine research centre, to name a few of the park’s tenants. The flags of France, Germany, Japan and Sweden are just some of those seen flying from the offices of international companies. The park even has an on-site healthcare non-profit, childcare centre and golf course for employees.
With its roots in US military history – Quonset is the birthplace of the Quonset hut, which are prefabricated all-purpose steel structures used widely during the Second World War by the US Navy as barracks and offices – the area continues to serve its country. Anchor tenant General Dynamics Electric Boat currently employs 3715 staff in its production of nuclear submarines for the US military, and plans to hire up to 3000 more by 2030.
Since the establishment in 2005 of quasi-state agency Quonset Development Corporation (QDC), the park’s operator and a subsidiary of Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, Quonset has seen 4351 new jobs created and $598m in private investment. The business park’s operations are funded solely by park revenue.
A 2016 Bryant University study found that Quonset supports 21,102 Rhode Island jobs, meaning one in every 23; adds $2.85bn to the state’s economy, making up 5.2% of state GDP; and generates $113.1m in tax revenues for state and local government. And on average, Quonset workers’ wages are 8.3% higher than the state average.
The Quonset offering
QDC’s streamlined development process ensures a 90-day timeline from site control to construction, as well as pad-ready building sites and pre-completed environmental permits. And the park offers direct access to highway, rail and sea infrastructure – more than 75 companies use the state’s Port of Davisville, for instance, putting Rhode Island in the top 10 auto importers for North America.
QDC managing director Steven King, a decorated US Army veteran and University of Rhode Island alumnus, is keen to stress that the state’s strong public support network has been important. “We’ve had great leadership from the governor’s office to the environmental community and state regulators to work with us – the ability to offer sites pad-ready for development is a key marketing tool,” he says.
A newcomer to Quonset is British tea company Finlays, which is set to create 73 local jobs and increase the state’s GDP by $15.3m. “Finlays is one of the beneficiaries of the governor’s new programmes for economic development incentives, which, when leveraged against what we are doing, is very strong,” says Mr King.
Quonset offers rebates to tenants for the length of their lease and number of jobs created. “When you add to that the governor’s Rebuild Rhode Island and Qualified Jobs Incentive tax credits, it’s very compelling. Finlays took advantage of all of that,” he adds.
The park is projected to host more than 16,000 jobs by 2030, according to QDC management. With its continuous stream of projects and infrastructure developments in the pipeline, it appears that as long as Rhode Island can produce talented workers, they will find a home and join the roll of US industriousness at Quonset.