Sittin’ on the Port in the Bay
As regular readers know, I’m not a supporter of specifically targeted economic development. For one thing, I lack confidence in our leaders’ ability to define such far-reaching strategic plans. Moreover, as we see with on the casino issue, if businesses think a particular government activity or change will be profitable, they’ll lobby for it, making noise about its value. When the government opts to act independently of private-sector enthusiasm, it does so with ulterior motives, plodding ahead with something other than economic development as its core motivation.
That is the sense that I get about the Quonset port debate. In the years that I’ve watched it rage out of the corner of my eye, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard from a major shipper, or some other likely client, that the port would be a boon for them, and now it appears that area is seeing other kinds of businesses move in:
On a tour of the park last week, Steven J. King, managing director of the Quonset Development Corporation, could point to only a handful of lots in the former Navy base that haven’t been leased or slated for redevelopment. Only about 200 acres in the 3,160-acre Quonset Business Park are still available.
Much of the development has taken place in the past several years. In 2003, there were 136 businesses in the park. Now, the site is home to 164 businesses that employ more than 8,800 people. The number of jobs has increased by a third over the past four years.
The positive to that expansion (which some may see as a negative) is that the government investment is minimal. Private funds (perhaps with some public assistance) goes toward the buildings, paving, and landscaping necessary, and that’s that. By contrast:
… some legislators seem to believe those projects aren’t enough and have started talking again about the container-port proposal that was championed by Lincoln C. Almond, Carcieri’s predecessor in the governor’s office. That plan would have required extensive dredging in Narragansett Bay and the filling of hundreds of acres there. Its price tag was estimated at $3 billion.
You can be assured that some powerful people are looking at that potential $3 billion expense as a payday, rather than an investment in longer-term revenue. Indeed, as far as I’ve read, there is no indication that the investment would be utilized. The Almond plan was a matter of debate before my time of local awareness, but there does not appear to be a corporate name behind the initiative, and the fact that some resource is “underutilized” does not mean that a specific improvement project is the answer.