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King of Quonset

Steven King ’88 drives public private partnerships for future economic growth

Anyone who says Rhode Island isn’t a business-friendly state hasn’t been to the Quonset Business Park. Located in North Kingstown, with more than 9,500* employees and more than 175 companies, the park is a booming, bustling bright spot in Rhode Island’s economic landscape. A significant investment of both private and public resources has transformed the Park’s Port of Davisville into North America’s seventh largest auto-importer. Honda has just been added to the list of manufacturers and will begin shipping autos here in 2014.

So what draws businesses to Quonset? It is the Quonset Development Corporation’s recognition that building world-class infrastructure and delivering on the promise of a consistent, predictable development can help the Park, and its tenants, grow. A key contributor to Quonset’s recent success is Steven J. King ’88, PE, managing director of the Quonset Development Corporation (QDC).

Quonset is
an engine
of economic
growth and job
creation in
Rhode Island.

King, who has his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, was also ROTC at URI. He served on active duty in the U.S. Army from 1988 to 1992 and is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War. During his service he was awarded numerous honors, including the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the SW Asia Service Medal, and the Saudi Arabian Medal for the Liberation of Kuwait.

Prior to joining the QDC, King gained experience working in several different engineering firms, and holds a professional engineering license in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. In February 2013, King was honored by the Providence Engineering Society (the oldest professional engineering society in the United States) with its annual Freeman Award for his outstanding contributions to the civil engineering profession in Rhode Island.

As managing director of the QDC, King oversees the planning, development and administration of all aspects of the Quonset Business Park. He is responsible for the leasing and management of all new developments in the Park and administers the planning, engineering, design, and construction of all infrastructure improvements undergone by the QDC. Following his military and private sector experience, King arrived at Quonset in 1998. He was named chief operating officer of the Park in 2005, and then managing director of the QDC in 2008.

Since 2005, the Park has benefited from more than $300 million in private investment. In addition, more than $660 million in federal and state funds has been invested in the Park in the last few decades.

“We have taken down more than two million square feet of abandoned Navy buildings, laid down thousands of feet of new railroads, and resurfaced miles and miles of new roadways throughout the Park,” King told President David Dooley on the president’s recent visit to Quonset.

Today, Quonset is an engine of economic growth and job creation in Rhode Island. In a recent Bryant University study, it was estimated that in 2011 alone, the Quonset Business Park created $956.5 million in income for Rhode Island households and another $25.5 million in income tax revenues for the state. The tax revenue estimate does not include corporate taxes accrued to the state, or nearly $6 million in property taxes or payments-in-lieu-of-taxes made to North Kingstown. Quonset’s actual impact is closer to $1 billion. And since 2005, Quonset has seen an unprecedented growth of jobs—adding approximately 3,000 in that brief period of time.

“We believe that Quonset Business Park has the capacity for approximately 15,000 workers on site,” King noted during a recent interview. “That will mean some challenges for parking and transportation hurdles to get them all here—but I suppose it’s a good problem for us and for Rhode Island to have.”

The QDC determined that in order to make economic strides in the state, Quonset had to become a business-friendly environment. Central to the QDC’s business-friendly mission is its innovative “Site-Readiness” program. King believes that business owners aren’t impressed by just hearing about a good game. “They want to see one,” he said.

“To succeed in the current economic landscape, businesses need practical tools that can save them time and money. We want to help them grow their companies, not slow them down,” he emphasized.

The public access plan includes more than 180 acres of conservation space, a 2.3 mile bike path, the creation of a large-scale retail plaza, five historical and cultural venues, as well as the creation of four new beaches at the Business Park, which provide access to the Bay.

That is why the QDC teamed up with various state agencies to create the “Site-Readiness” program at Quonset, which establishes a streamlined and expedited permitting process. Teaming with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) the QDC has pre-permitted and pre-engineered the remaining 39 parcels at the Park with the help of DiPrete Engineering. This removes uncertainty from the development process and allows shovels to be put into the ground within 90 days of a lease signing.

“This program is a proactive effort to capitalize on the public and private investments that have been made at Quonset in recent years,” King noted. “But it’s also a valuable lesson about how private and public partnerships can be forged to help the business community grow jobs.”

The “Site-Readiness” program follows several other initiatives that have fueled the growth of business at Quonset, including the creation of a “Quonset Zone.” This designated area is a single zoning district assigned to the Quonset Business Park as part of an agreement for uniform development regulations between the Town of North Kingstown and the QDC. This allows Quonset businesses to complete any zoning requirements directly through the QDC.

Developers, sensitive to red-tape and regulatory hurdles, are finding the Quonset Business Park to be a very business-friendly place. Another example of Quonset’s business-friendly approach: in Rhode Island, the CRMC requires businesses located on waterfront property on Narragansett Bay to provide public access points to the water for public use. That meant tenants of Quonset Business Park located along the waterfront—including those in the defense and automobile industries—would be required to provide access to the water.

The QDC recognized this as a hurdle to these businesses—a hurdle the organization was determined to help clear. In 2005, the QDC came up with a public access plan in cooperation with the CRMC that would help meet those state requirements while relieving individual Quonset tenants from the burden of having to create their own public access points on land they own or lease from the QDC. The shoreline access element of the Quonset master plan is then updated every five years in accordance with CRMC requirements.

The public access plan developed by the QDC includes numerous avenues for public access within the Park. It includes more than 180 acres of conservation space, a 2.3 mile bike path, the creation of a large-scale retail plaza, five historical and cultural venues (including the Seabee Memorial Park, Quonset Air Museum, and the Allen Madison House), as well as the creation of four new beaches at the Business Park, which provide access to the Bay. The CRMC thoroughly endorsed this vision.

King believes that the public access plan today serves as an example of how creativity and flexibility can stimulate the climate for economic development, while bolstering the greater public good. “Not many Rhode Islanders recognize that Quonset has some of the most breathtaking views of Narragansett Bay in the state. Our solution not only helped our companies meet the local environmental requirements, but also allowed us to highlight our unique location and provided four attractive beaches open to the public.”

Quonset has redefined the way business is done in Rhode Island. The “Quonset Zone” was recently recognized by Grow Smart Rhode Island for an “Outstanding Policies & Plans Award.” The pre-permitting “Site-Readiness” program was also chosen as the key model for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation’s “Rhode Island-Ready” initiative.

Steven King knows that the QDC has momentum because it is “committed to working with tenant companies to overcome obstacles, and achieve success. Through open communication, careful planning, and committed investment to our infrastructure, Quonset Business Park has been able to make a significant contribution to helping grow Rhode Island’s economy.”

And that is good news in these challenging times.

–Ted Kresse and Matthew Kleyla

* On October 10, 2013, this number was changed from 9,100 to 9,500 to reflect current data.

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