Electric Boat should open its wallet wider

If I could give an assignment to Rob Simmons, I would suggest something that might benefit not just Stonington constituents of the first selectman's, but all his former constituents across the 2nd Congressional District.

I know that in appointing Simmons and Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown local fundraising co-chairmen, the National Coast Guard Museum had in mind a grass-roots campaign that would demonstrate wide community support to outside donors.

Others in the museum fundraising effort are certainly working the national corporate class.

But one crossover donor should be Electric Boat, part of a large corporation that benefits from the services of the Coast Guard. Its corporate parent, General Dynamics, lives large on military spending, including Coast Guard contracts.

Since there have been no public announcements of General Dynamics museum donations, I called EB to ask.

It turns out General Dynamics has pledged $50,000 over multiple years, and Electric Boat has pledged another $50,000 in annual payments.

That's all.

No wonder no one announced it. It's embarrassingly meager.

Electric Boat is obligated to be a generous sponsor of the proposed Coast Guard museum because it should support an important program in its host community.

Electric Boat, with its growing cascade of new submarine contracts, will be the gorilla of the eastern Connecticut economy for a long while.

The company certainly contributes to the community with its growing payroll and, of course, through property taxes.

But it takes more than that to be a good corporate citizen, and Electric Boat should have been an early lead donor in the fundraising campaign for the Coast Guard museum.

That's where Simmons might make a good arm twister.

A former congressman is in a good position to explain to EB executives the political shoulder Connecticut politicians have put to the task of keeping Electric Boat and the Submarine Base in good form, politicking over many years and from both parties.

It's a two-way street of benefits, and there would be no better time for Electric Boat to pay back, not just New London, but the Connecticut constituents of a delegation that has fought so hard on the submarine builder's behalf.

I know that Pfizer, before it sold its New London office complex to Electric Boat and shrank its regional footprint, was a prominent contributor to many local causes.

Electric Boat got a fire sale deal on the New London buildings Pfizer spent $300 million to build. The submarine maker also successfully sued to lower its New London tax bill.

The city has gone out of its way to help the company provide employee parking in the city garage and on streets.

Being contributing members of the community often means more than paying your taxes and meeting your payroll. That's true for homeowners and small businesses but it is especially true of big corporations who take so much from their host community.

An EB spokeswoman said the company contributes to more than 40 regional organizations but declined to give the amount in the community giving budget.

EB employees, through payroll deductions for a community service campaign, donated a total of $2.6 million in 2016, their employer said. A separate management association has donated more than $100,000 in the last 10 years to support families and children with domestic violence and substance abuse issues, as well as homeless shelters. EB employees also volunteer in a wide variety of community organizations, the company said.

Electric Boat and General Dynamics, with a significant headline-making donation to the Coast Guard museum, could help motivate other corporate donors in the seapower industry.

Think of it as a stadium or performing center, and this is the chance to claim the naming rights, or some equivalent sponsorship honor.

There would be no better way to demonstrate wide community support here for the museum than with a marquee sponsorship by Electric Boat, our leading employer.

And I can think of few people better suited to make Electric Boat understand that than a congressman who spent a lot of time going to bat for the company in Washington.

Simmons should tell the company that $100,000 is nowhere near enough.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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