March 7, 2010
Connecticut's bold bid to be the first state to collaborate with the federal government in improving facilities on a military base is paying dividends. Of course, the best proof that the investment was a wise one will come if the Naval Submarine Base in Groton is not on the Pentagon's next base-closing list.
Last September Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced that the state would bond $7.65 million for the construction of a diving support facility and new boiler. It is fair to argue about the appropriateness of the state investing in a federal facility, but it will be well worth it if it keeps the base off future closing lists, considering the base accounts for about 15,000 jobs and $3 billion in annual economic activity for Connecticut.
Among the primary reasons the Pentagon proposed closing the base in 2005 was aging infrastructure. Connecticut is hardly alone in trying to improve the situation, the Navy having committed to invest more than $100 million over several years, including critical pier replacements.
If the new state-funded construction can also generate jobs for Connecticut's work force, all the better, and that appears the case. Navy Secretary Raymond E. Mabus Jr. recently informed Gov. Rell that the Navy will reserve boiler work for a Connecticut company under a Small Business Administration program intended to help such businesses take part in the economic recovery.
The dive locker, as a pure military project, cannot be restricted to Connecticut businesses only. However, the project is being set aside for small businesses owned by disabled military veterans. There are several small Connecticut businesses qualified to compete for the work.
The next governor will have the option of leveraging future state investments to create and maintain jobs at the base. The $7.65 million came from $50 million in bond funds set aside for infrastructure projects supporting long-term naval operations at the base. It is a good tool to have.