• Investment on Navy Base Points to Blue, Green Economic Development

    Investment on Navy Base Points to Blue, Green Economic Development
    By Newport This Week Staff | on December 14, 2023

    By John Pantalone

    The U.S. Navy announcement last week that Naval Station New­port would be the site of a new Op­erations Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin­istration has people in local gov­ernment and industry touting its impact on the local economy.

    The $147.7 million project, which is expected to be completed in 2027, has economic implications around development of marine technology and sustainable devel­opment as the region faces climate change.

    Mayor Xay Khamsavoravong stressed that the project augments the momentum under way in the city and the region for develop­ment of what are called blue and green economy businesses and jobs. “This strengthens the govern­ment investment and presence here,” he said.

    The mayor said the timing of the project fits with plans to develop over 60 acres of land near the wa­terfront as part of the North End Urban Plan approved by the city in 2021. The focus of the plan is on growing marine technology and sustainable infrastructure.

    “It’s a unique time and opportu­nity,” he said. “The North End prop­erties will become available next year, and their development will form a gateway to one of the larg­est government investments in the area.”

    The North End plan encompass­es land associated with the former Newport Naval Hospital along Third Street, as well as more than 25 acres of property made avail­able by realignment of the New­port Bridge access points.

    “The keystone to all of this is the access and utility that will result from the bridge realignment, which will be completed by this time next year,” Khamsavoravong said. “We have a strong ad hoc ad­visory board that will report on de­velopment plans, but the key is that we don’t want more strip malls and parking lots on that land.”

    Local officials, commanders at the Naval Station and people in­volved in tech development and blue economy initiatives have wel­comed the plan.

    “This is a huge development,” said Molly Magee, CEO of two non­profits in Middletown that work in areas of defense technology. “Rhode Island is in a great position to support the NOAA Operations Center because we already have a strong ocean technology ecosys­tem here.”

    Magee and others point to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, the Graduate School of Oceanog­raphy at the University of Rhode Island, Electric Boat and other re­gional entities that are all involved in ocean research and related tech­nological development.

    “There is a technology transfer element to all this,” Magee said. “Some of the technology devel­oped by small companies in the region for defense- and securi­ty related research is applicable in other areas of ocean research. The reality is that Rhode Island already is a hub for ocean research. Having the NOAA center here will enhance that.”

    “It hasn’t happened overnight,” Khamsavoravong said. “The con­gressional delegation [Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Sheldon White­house] put a lot of effort into it, and we have a congressman [Rep. Gabe Amo] who understands how im­portant this is to our future.”

    Magee said that an economic impact study done this year of what she called “the defense clus­ter” in New England, and in the in­dividual states, showed $7.6 billion of economic impact in Rhode Is­land. Five years ago, a similar study put that figure at $3.4 billion, Ma­gee said.

    “Having the NOAA facility in Newport will increase that eco­nomic impact,” she added.

    Liz Tanner, Rhode Island com­merce secretary, agrees with Khamsavoravong about the opera­tions center’s impact on blue eco­nomic development. She pointed out that the project follows the U.S. Economic Development Ad­ministration awarding Rhode Island and Southeastern Massa­chusetts a regional Tech Hub des­ignation, one of just 31 in the na­tion and the only one to specifically focus on the ocean technology sector.

    “NOAA’s role in weather fore­casting, climate monitoring, fisher­ies management, coastal resto­ration and management, and marine commerce aligns with the great work already being done in Rhode Island,” Tanner said. “The addition of a NOAA Atlantic Marine Operations Center conveys to the U.S. Commerce Department that our state has been a leader in this space for decades and continues to maximize the work being done in places like Quonset Point, New­port and Providence. Projects such as this allow us to leverage our unique coastal assets, which in­clude commercial ports and shal­low and deep ocean access to ac­celerate the commercialization of ocean technology.”

    Many agencies and businesses have developed the momentum that Tanner and Khamsavoravong mentioned. For example, Senedia, a nonprofit that Magee leads, func­tions like a chamber of commerce for defense industry businesses.

    “We help with workforce devel­opment and economic develop­ment,” said Magee, who sits on the board of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce. “We have an internship program with Real Jobs Rhode Island [at the state De­partment of Labor & Training] that helps people get into the industry, particularly veterans.”

    Another of the nonprofits she referred to, the Undersea Technol­ogy Innovation Consortium, formed in 2016, works with small technology companies to help them move products to industry. The consortium includes more than 100 businesses, academic en­tities and defense contractors across the country involved in technology development. Efforts such as these, which involve a vari­ety of agencies, educational insti­tutions, nonprofits and think tanks, combine with government invest­ment to move the region and the country more deeply into blue and green job development.

    As for the design and construc­tion of NOAA’s Marine Operations Center, a New York-based firm, Skanska, has received the contract, most of the funding coming from the Inflation Reduction Act, a $3.3 billion Biden Administration initia­tive. The act supports improve­ments to weather and climate data and services, and strengthens NOAA’s fleet of research ships and airplanes, according to a NOAA press release.

    NOAA has facilities on both U.S. coasts as it conducts scientific research to understand and predict environmental change and to man­age and conserve America’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA’s Atlantic fleet collects data neces­sary for protecting marine mam­mals, coral reefs and historic ship­wrecks, managing commercial fisheries, understanding climate change and producing nautical charts. NOAA ships also deploy and help maintain buoys that gather oceanographic and weather infor­mation and warn of tsunamis.

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