By Louis P. DiPalma

Naval Station Newport (NAVSTANPT), home to many tenant US Navy Commands, including Coast Guard Commands, Army Reserve Units, a Marine Corp and NOAA Command, forms the anchor for RI’s Defense Economy.  As a result of the 2005 federal Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), NAVSTANPT added hundreds of jobs and grew in its ever-increasing importance and criticality to our national defense.  One of the unique tenants is the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC).

An economic impact analysis of the RI defense sector was accomplished by Professor Edinaldo Tebaldi of Bryant University.  In the report accompanying his analysis, NUWC is described as the “US Navy’s principal research, development, test and evaluation center for undersea weapons systems and many other systems associated with the undersea battlespace.”  And, NUWC is currently adding hundreds of well-paying, jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

The Defense Economy is vital and critically important to Aquidneck Island, Newport County, RI and our national defense.  As stated in the Tebaldi Report, in 2013 the RI defense sector, which includes the military defense infrastructure and the private defense industry, supports approximately 33,000 jobs which equates to 6.2% of the state’s total employment.  Additionally, our defense economy added approximately $3.7 billion to the state’s economic output.  And, it generates approximately $105 million annually in tax revenues for the state, which includes $47 million in personal income tax revenues and $58 million in other tax revenues.

The defense sector is RI’s highest paying.  In 2013, the average annual wage of a civilian NUWC employee was approximately $111,000.  The average annual wage for all Rhode Island civilian employees working for the Department of Defense was approximately $94,000, and the average annual wage of Rhode Island private defense industry workers was $70,000.

The average annual wage in the private defense industry in RI was 61%higher than the average wage in non-farm industries ($43,500), 36% higher than the average wage in manufacturing ($51,200), 89% higher than average wage in education and health services, and almost four times the average wage in the leisure and hospitality industry ($18,500).

Clearly, the Defense Industry is vitally important to our local and state economies and, most importantly, our national defense.  The question regarding BRAC is not whether another will occur; it’s a question of when.  We need to do all in our power to ensure our coveted defense industry remains vibrant, is nurtured and fares as well in the next BRAC round as it did in 2005. We need to be proactive in our efforts.  In fact, this is one of the impetuses for having created the RI Defense Economy Planning Commission, of which I’ve been a Co-Chair for the last many years.  The time to act is now!

Louis P. DiPalma is a Democratic state senator representing District 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton and Newport.  He is co-chairman of the Rhode Island Defense Economy Planning Commission.

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