Did you know that Rhode Island’s only public port is regularly rated as one of the top 10 auto importers in the U.S.? Or that when you tear open a bag of Frito Lays, that silver lining was likely made right here in the Ocean State? It’s all happening at the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown. The Park is home to The Port of Davisville, which in 2013 saw more than 172,000 autos arrive by sea to be processed and distributed by auto importer North Atlantic Distribution (NORAD), with another 30,000 coming through the Park on rail or truck. Long-term Park tenant Toray Plastics produces those potato chip bag linings as well as other thin plastics and showcases one of the largest arrays of solar land panels in the state. There are over 175 companies covering a broad range of industries in the Park, in addition to goodies like an airport, a railroad, a golf course, four public beaches, a ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard and two museums.
All of this is taking place on the site of a former Navy air base and Naval Construction Battalion Center. Acting on behalf of the state, the Quonset Development Corporation (QDC) has transformed the 3,207 acres into a flourishing beacon of economic innovation and growth in just a few short years. Steven J. King, P.E., the managing director of the QDC, is a driving force behind the re-birth of the Park. “When I first began working at Quonset almost 16 years ago,” he remembers, “the Park was dramatically different. There were hundreds of vacant Navy buildings and hangars. The roads were in disrepair. There was very little curb appeal and no public beaches.”
To transform the space to a place where businesses can flourish, the QDC tore down 2.4 million square feet of abandoned Navy buildings, laid down thousands of feet of new railroads and resurfaced miles of new roadways throughout the Park. Today, the Park is operationally self-sufficient, thanks to the revenue generated by leasing parcels of land to business tenants. The Park has its own water supply, wastewater treatment facility, road and railway maintenance services and does not receive any operational funds from the Rhode Island state budget.
Giving the space such a huge facelift was not cheap, but it has proven to be a worthwhile investment. Overall, the QDC has invested close to $86 million to upgrade the infrastructure of the Park. The state and federal government have also invested heavily in the park since 1974, contributing more than $660 million. These efforts have been rewarded with private investment in the Park nearly doubling that into well over $1.3 billion. “This proves that if we invest in our state assets, it can create jobs, commerce and provide a sound return on investment,” says King. Out of the 1,500 developable acres, only 293 remain available for leasing.
The magic happening at the Quonset Business Park is certainly revealed by the numbers. The Park accounts for almost one in every 50 jobs in Rhode Island. Current figures show the Park has more than 9,500 full and part time workers. 3,500 of these jobs have been created since 2005. According to a study by Bryant University using data from 2011, the Park creates $956.5 million in income for Rhode Island households and $25.5 million in income tax revenues for the state. The study also estimated that by 2021, this could rise to over $1.5 billion in income for households and $40 million in income tax revenues for the state.
Who’s at Quonset
The Quonset Business Park is home to a long and diverse collection of tenants. Long-term occupants of the Park include General Dynamics Electric Boat, which employs close to 3,000 workers constructing submarines. Last year, it was announced that Electric Boat has signed on for a 25-year renewal of their lease, the longest in their history at Quonset, which could allow them to double their workforce there over the next ten years. The Park houses Ocean State Job Lot’s corporate headquarters and 500,000 square foot distribution center. In the coming years, they plan on adding an additional 400,000 square feet of space to their facility.
Other tenants include Hayward Industries, a major player in the global pool industry, BB&S, providing pre-treated lumber across New England, and Dominion Diagnostics, which performs thousands of blood and urine analyses for companies each week. The RI Air National Guard maintains a presence and their Blackhawk planes can be seen taking off from the Quonset State Airport, managed by RI Air Corporation. They also bring in private and corporate planes. Martha’s Vineyard Fast Ferry provides a direct link to Martha’s Vineyard. There is a childcare center in the Park and a flourishing retail space featuring Dave’s Marketplace, BankNewport, Kohl’s and frozen yogurt vendor Fresh Waves, among others.
Another major feature of the Park is the Port of Davisville, Rhode Island’s only public port. In addition to the Hondas, Audis, Bentleys and Porsches regularly arriving, the Port is also home to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) deep sea research vessel, the Okeanos Explorer, and to Seafreeze Ltd., the largest producer of sea-frozen seafood on the East Coast.
The Quonset Business Park has taken off thanks in large part to the lengths the QDC has gone to in streamlining the building process for new tenants. “We work hard to create an environment at Quonset where businesses can grow and succeed,” explains King. “Companies looking to grow want to do it quickly and efficiently.”
To deliver this, almost all of the remaining parcels of land still available for development have been pre-permitted and pre-engineered through the QDC’s unique Site Readiness program, which allows new businesses to get shovels in the ground only 90 days after signing a lease. This is a remarkable advantage over the cumbersome process that usually confronts a business looking for a new location. “As part of this program, the QDC has completed all the engineering that a developer would have to conduct in order to get a project underway. We have also secured all the baseline permits from various state agencies that a new business would be required to secure,” King explains. This information is available to potential developers, who can easily see a binder for each of the 44 parcels of land still available, detailing the engineering and permits secured and the layout it would allow.
New Kids on the Block
For prospective tenants, having all this leg work already done is a huge selling point. Last month, the QDC and Governor Chafee announced that convenience food manufacturing giant Greencore USA will be signing a 50-year lease with the Park, bringing 400 new jobs to the state. CEO Liam Mc-Clennon is quoted in the Quonset Points newsletter, distributed by the QDC, highlighting the Park’s Site Readiness program as a major selling point, “in searching for the right location, we wanted to find a place where we could build quickly, have easy access to major cities on the East Coast and be in a place where we could grow in the future. Quonset met all those criteria perfectly – it is a world-class facility.”
The Successful Model
This ability to respond to the needs of its tenants is part of what distinguishes the Quonset Business Park. After receiving multiple phone calls from start-up businesses looking for small office space, the QDC introduced the Quonset Gateway Offices, constructing an initial facility last year. These office spaces, suitable for 1-20 employees, feature wireless high-speed internet access, a receptionist to field phone calls and visitors for all tenants, shared break areas, outdoor courtyard and a conference room. Spaces are offered at affordable rates with month-to-month leasing opportunities available. Within six weeks of opening, the building was fully leased. The QDC is beginning construction on a second facility this spring and envisions more over the coming years.
The Quonset Business Park gives Rhode Island a lot to celebrate. “It is particularly satisfying to look back and see the vast improvements to the Park and the impact the new development and job creation has brought to our local economy,” says King. And there is every indication that there is a lot more growth to come.
Let's play at The Quonset Business Park