Rhode Island: Open for Business

Joseph Keefe (taken from MarineNews April 2012 print edition)
Friday, April 27, 2012
Planned Blount Newbuild Wind Turbine support vessel.

Rhode Island’s economic assets include a surprising number of prominent and lesser known maritime firms. A recent media tour hosted by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) highlighted the Ocean State’s key role(s) in the nation’s maritime industry.


As the state of Rhode Island – along with everyone else, so it seems – works to revitalize a struggling local economy, it has become increasingly apparent that the marine industry will play a prominent role in that revival. In March, the Ocean State’s marine trade industry opened their doors to national trade media, showcasing the important work being done here in the ocean state. MarineNews Editor Joseph Keefe spent two full days there, visiting a raft of maritime businesses, marine research centers and government contractors. The primary take-away from all of that was this: Rhode Island is indeed open for business.


  • Rhode Island’s Economy: maritime is key

The two-day event focused on the state’s vast marine-related industries. Rhode Island’s 400 miles of coastline boasts a strong cluster of marine-related industries, with numerous shipping terminals, marinas, docks and marine industrial sites. Beyond this, the University of Rhode Island – home to world-class oceanographic research by military and private sector firms – is joined by well-known maritime firms such as Blount Shipbuilding, Electric Boat, Hall Spars, Hinckley Yachts, Hunt Yachts, KVH Industries, New England Boatworks and Pearson Composites. A well-known and respected maritime training resource, the Non-Profit 501c (3) Maritime Simulation Institute (MSI), operates out of Middletown, RI. A burgeoning high-tech maritime security sector exists here as well, anchored by ASA Science, Rite Solutions, and the Naval Underwater War College (NUWC).

At the heart of Governor Chafee’s revitalization efforts is his recognition that the marine trade industry will play a key role in Rhode Island’s future. In March, the Governor told gathered journalists that he believes these industries, which carry great potential for high-skilled manufacturing, will be crucial, just as they have been throughout the state’s history. Rhode Island, he says, is a logical choice for marine industries and research, not only because of its coastal infrastructure, but because the state has a strong supply chain, over 12,000 workers employed in the industry, and access to world-class marine building and technology partners and an active Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA). 


  • Out & About

Drilling down, the specific parts of Rhode Island’s maritime business climate are arguably even more impressive than the whole. A whirlwind two-day tour of the state’s waterfront provided several notable highlights:

The Rhode Island’s Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) is the U.S. Navy's full-spectrum research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support center for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, and offensive and defensive weapons systems associated with undersea warfare. One of the corporate laboratories of the Naval Sea Systems Command, NUWC is headquartered in Newport. NUWC employs more than 4,400 civilian and military personnel around the world, with budgets of over $1 billion.

The University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography offers a “Blue MBA” which prepares students for management careers in energy, ocean technology and engineering, and marine navigation.  The program works across disciplines ranging from observation-based research, modeling, and instrument development, which translates into initiatives funded by organizations such as the NSF, DOC,  USAID, U.S. Navy, DOE, U.S. Air Force, EPA, and others.  The work ranges from collecting micro-organisms in deep sea environments for DNA mapping and drug discovery research to collecting mineral samples for gas and oil discovery.  The Graduate School of Oceanography’s Special Area Management Program (SAMP) has mapped approximately 5% of the world’s ocean floors and works on mining and wind farm planning projects. 

Blount Boats, located in Warren, RI, proved to be one of the more interesting venues of the week. The tour and presentation at their boatyard included a personal visit from Governor Lincoln Chafee, who told MarineNews, “I’m more concerned with rising energy costs here in Rhode Island than I am with taxes. We also need to focus on job training.” Looking out over four brand new, Blount-built U.S. Army 75-foot, passenger vessels scheduled for immediate delivery, Chafee also held forth on the current challenging federal budget discussions. “Defense will take a hit. Rhode Island will, however, aggressively protect its piece of the shrinking pie.” Fortunately, Blount also does more than its fair share of commercial work, too.

A recently signed contract with Wendella Sightseeing Company, Inc. to construct a third 89 x 30 foot steel excursion boat will be a sister ship to the M/V Wendella (Hull 320) and M/V Linnea (Hull 330) built by the Blount shipyard in 2007 and 2010. Blount Boats was also awarded a contract by the Maine Department of Transportation to build a 110-foot passenger ferry for the Casco Bay Island Transit District. The proposed 399 passenger, Sub-Chapter K vessel will operate year round ferry service to islands in Casco Bay, Portland, Maine. Featuring the latest in electronically controlled diesel engines that meet EPA standards, Blount Hull number 335 will mark the ninth vessel built for the Casco Bay Island Transit District. Further fattening the Blount backorder book is yet another contract to build a sister vessel to the 75-foot aluminum passenger vessel, LA PRINCESA. Contract signing for the 149 passenger vessel is now underway.

Beyond (and perhaps more important than) Blount’s active backorder book and busy yard is a new licensing agreement with UK-based South Boats Special Projects, Ltd., which will allow Blount to be the exclusive shipyard to manufacture U.S. flagged aluminum catamarans of South Boats designs for the U.S. wind farm industry. At least 45 South Boats-built wind farm service vessels, in five classes are now in operation. Blount executives told MarineNews in March that they were to start building a “spec” wind farm vessel as early as this summer. Out in front of Rhode Island’s aggressive push to bring the first U.S. offshore wind farm to the Ocean State, Blount also aims to be the first supplier of Jones Act compliant, domestically built service vessels to the industry.

Also based in Rhode Island and a part of the tour was Rite Solutions, a firm engaged in analysis technology that spans the realm of DOD/U.S. Navy work (75% of revenues) and commercial efforts, too. Rite-Solutions’ accomplishments include participation in Navy Undersea Warfare programs, commercial entertainment contracts and child safety programs. In 2010, Rite-Solutions was awarded a $73 million Phase III SBIR contract for work on the Combat Systems of the Future. The company’s customers include the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Naval Sea Systems Command, Office of Naval Research, Raytheon, and many others. Significantly, they also provide simulation software for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s Emergency Management graduate degree program.

Rounding out the week was a visit to ASA, also a global science and technology firm that notably markets the OilmapWeb system, a web-based version of ASA’s OILMAP software for oil spill response training and planning. Using OILMAP, a user can then run the oil spill model, entering the location of the accident, and amount and type of oil that is released. Using this data, the software provides key response strategies for responders.


  • The Ocean State: the case for Maritime Business

Two days in March, hosted by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, opened a lot of eyes to Rhode Island’s current business climate and its future potential to host additional marine business opportunities. “Rhode Island has a long-standing history of Marine industries that have continued to innovate and evolve to grow,” said Keith Stokes, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC). The RIEDC is a business resource to businesses looking to expand and relocate to Rhode Island, we offer financing options for the marine industry, including business loans through the Small Business Loan Fund, as well as tax incentives and other workforce development assistance. Also, no sales tax is levied on boats registered in the State.”

The many and varied maritime businesses dotting the Rhode Island coastline show no apparent signs of a sluggish economy. In fact, most showed growth within a difficult period and all exhibited ongoing business and the prospects for more. The smallest state with a long coastline and a big maritime footprint may also be poised to be the nation’s first to dip their toes into the offshore wind power game. And, that because Rhode Island is open for business.


By Joseph Keefe, Editor, MarineNews magazine.  (taken from MarineNews April 2012 print edition)

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