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    Wednesday, December 07, 2022

    Welcome, Offshore Wind Industry Cluster

    It's no secret the pandemic decimated the state's tourism and service economies, and with the omicron variant now threatening to once again keep us at home more often, it's also not likely these sectors will soon fully recover to pre-pandemic level, despite new efforts to bolster tourism this winter.

    For a region such as southeastern Connecticut, which heavily relies on tourism, this is decidedly bad news. So, when a regional effort to diversify the local economy took a big step forward recently, thanks to a coalition led by the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, also known as seCTer, to say it was good news is an understatement.

    The seCTer coalition is one of 60 finalists chosen from among 529 applicants in the U.S. Economic Development Administration's $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. It is the only one of four proposals submitted from Connecticut to become a finalist in the competition.

    The local coalition's proposal supports offshore wind power in New London and Bridgeport. The proposal for six projects will receive $500,000 and could be in line to receive $25 million to $100 million more if it's successful in the Phase 2 competition. Despite the name of the challenge, the funding will come from earlier pandemic relief funds, not the Build Back Better bill that Congress has not passed.

    The set of projects promises to create jobs and provide a huge boost for the local economy. Called the Offshore Wind Industry Cluster, the projects are proposed by the University of Connecticut's Avery Point regional campus, the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, the Norwich Community Development Corporation, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. The lead agencies have been meeting, with a March deadline ahead of them.

    The projects have a wide range: from hosting forums and conducting surveys to identify regional supply chain gaps and then encouraging local companies to expand production to fill these gaps, to developing a 48,000-square-foot Blue Tech Research and Development Center at Avery Point.

    The Offshore Wind Industry Cluster proposal also comes at a time when New London's State Pier is undergoing a $235 million redevelopment aimed at supporting the offshore wind industry. The OWIC application noted that while an average annual salary in the local hospitality industry barely tops $30,000, an average manufacturing job pays nearly $107,000 annually. Even with the $1 million winter tourism marketing campaign the state's Office of Tourism is launching to help re-build that industry, it remains vitally important to diversify the regional economy.

    "The green economy is upon us, and we really need to do something about it, and I'm just excited for Connecticut to be a part of it," says seCTer executive director Paul Whitescarver. Whitescarver is a retired Navy captain who was commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton from 2015 to 2019. In that role, he became well known for strengthening relationships among the base and local municipalities, agencies and community groups. He has been leading seCTer since early October.

    All these participating organizations deserve congratulations for this successful effort. An extra round of applause goes to seCTer and Whitescarver for bringing these disparate partners together for a common cause and work that will result in huge benefits for the region. Clearly his experience with successful regional collaboration will pay off for the local economy.

    The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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