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.