NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — When voters head to the polls on March 2, or mail in their ballot or participate in early voting beforehand, they’ll be faced with seven ballot questions, including one which directly impacts some of the most prominent businesses in North Kingstown.
Question 7, if approved, would see the state issue $60 million in bonds to the Quonset Development Corporation for economic development activity, including $40 million for industrial site development to facilitate the preparedness of available business-ready plots in the Quonset Business Park for manufacturing and other activities, and $20 million for the building of a new pier and renovation of Pier One, which was first built during World War II, at the Port of Davisville, as well as dredging to accommodate the offshore wind cargo coming with the Revolution Wind project, which officials claim will send 400 megawatts of energy from the offshore wind farm to a new substation in Quonset before going to the Davisville Substation and then throughout the state’s power grid.
Construction at the Port of Davisville, which has already been under way, would be further funded by the measure, which the QDC estimates will extend the useful life of the port by 50 years, while the QDC says the site development effort would produce “economic benefits for Rhode Island indefinitely,” as a 2019 study conducted by Bryant University and commissioned by the QDC says the park created $1.28 billion in revenue for Rhode Island in 2018 while generating a combined $128.8 million in both state and local tax revenue.
Additionally, the port has become one of the top auto import centers in North America, taking in well over 200,000 vehicles and growing annually from manufacturers such as The Volkswagen Group, Fiat Chrysler, Subaru, Honda, Ford and General Motors, and in 2019 the Port of Davisville hit a total of 242,568 automobiles processed by North Atlantic Distribution, Inc. (NORAD) through the port on Oct. 18, beating the previous record of 241,851 set in 2018.
QDC Managing Director Steven King hosted Treasurer Seth Magaziner, another supporter of Question 7, for a tour of the work going on at the pier Monday morning to showcase its importance to the state’s economy, the passage of which King said was “very important.”
“The Port of Davisville supports more than 1,700 jobs, so we want to continue that, provide those good jobs for Rhode Islanders and as we look to incorporate offshore wind and O&M (Operations and Maintenance) and different things connect to offshore wind, the bond issue helps us to grow the port, continue to improve the infrastructure and leverage it for jobs for Rhode Island,” King said.
After observing the port, which was receiving a shipment of Volkswagens from Germany during the tour, Magaziner said he was “extremely impressed.”
“I think if Rhode Islanders could see the level of sophistication that goes into running the Port of Davisville, they’d be very proud and very impressed,” Magaziner said. “Across Quonset as a whole, there’s more than 10,000 jobs today and that’s even with COVID-19, and there’s a potential to grow that number significantly, but we have to make the investments. This is public infrastructure that is for the public good, and that’s why we have to strengthen it and expand it.”
With over 12,000 jobs in the park, Magaziner called Quonset a major driver of the state’s economy which should be protected and supported in further growth, especially in wake of the economic hardships brought on by COVID-19 lockdowns.
“There are a lot of jobs here that need to be protected and there’s a lot of potential to add more jobs, which is more important for Rhode Island today than it has been maybe ever,” Magaziner said. “We need to make these investments and, if we do, it’ll pay dividends for our state’s economy for years to come. There’s a lot of potential to expand offshore wind here. There’s a lot of potential for other industries to take root in Quonset, but not if the piers fall into the ocean, and so we need to fix these piers and that’s why we’re encouraging Rhode Islanders to vote yes on Question 7.”
The tour came on the heels of an announcement the week before that Electric Boat plans on adding 1,300 manufacturing jobs at their Quonset location to support the work on the Columbia-class and Virginia-class submarine projects, the latter of which is part of the most expensive shipbuilding contract in Navy history.
“This is more good news for job creation in Rhode Island,” Sen. Jack Reed, who became the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 3, said in a press release. “The additional jobs for tradespeople are the result of a long fight that led to increasing production of Virginia-class submarines and starting production of the Columbia-class strategic missile submarine.”
The announcement came as welcomed news for both King and Magaziner, with both praising the role of the defense contractor in the economies of both the park and state.
“EB is the anchor tenant of the Quonset Business Park,” King said. “(They’re) hugely important, (they’ve) been here for many decades (and) their growth is tremendous with the new Columbia-class submarine program and we’re proud to see those additional jobs come. We have more than 12,200 jobs at the Quonset Business Park today for them to add another thousand or more just leverages that even more.”
“Rhode Island is building some of the most advanced sea-going vessels in the history of the human race and that is something that our state is very proud of,” Magaziner said. “Those are a lot of good jobs coming to our state.”
The dredging, Magaziner said, would also assist EB in their submarine manufacturing.
“Part of what these bonds are paying for are the dredging to help move the submarines out into the ocean after they’re built,” Magaziner said.
With Revolution Wind, which is taking soil samples to collect data on how to best design the offshore cable route, Magaziner said that the project is key to the state’s energy goals and an area where the state can get a leg up on its neighbors, particularly Massachusetts.
“(Revolution Wind is) the key part of how we will transition Rhode Island to (run on) 100 percent renewable energy by 2030,” Magaziner said. “Offshore wind is vital to that, but the other part of the story is that there are a lot of states moving forward with offshore wind (such as) New York, Connecticut (and) at some point, Massachusetts, and the real question is: the permanent jobs for servicing those wind turbines, where are they going to be located? By making these investments in Quonset, it enhances our ability to make sure that more of those permanent jobs stay here in Rhode Island. I think when people think about the wind turbines, they think about the construction jobs at the front end but they don’t realize there are hundreds and hundreds of jobs in the maintenance of the turbines that need to be based somewhere and we want them to be based in Rhode Island.”
Early voting for the special election started Wednesday and runs through March 1 and for North Kingstown residents will be conducted at the Municipal Offices at 100 Fairway Drive Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while in person voting will occur on March 2 at Davisville Middle School for residents of Precincts 2301-2304 and the Beechwood Senior Center for residents of Precincts 2305-2309. Mail in ballots can be sent by mail or dropped off at a secure election drop box and must be received by 8 p.m. on March 2, with the state recommending any mail-in ballots be sent by Feb. 23 to ensure it is received on time.
For more information on the ballot questions and on how to vote, visit vote.sos.ri.gov.