On the most recent episode of the American Maritime Podcast, Jennifer Carpenter, president of the American Waterways Operators (AWO) and American Maritime Partnership (AMP), interviewed John Graykowski, former Deputy Maritime Administrator and Acting Maritime Administrator under President Bill Clinton. Graykowski, who is also consulting with Philadelphia Shipyard, discussed his current role and the broader state of American shipbuilding.

“American Shipbuilding is such a crucial part of our industrial base. A subject that is much in the news right now. Can you just talk a bit about why shipbuilding is so important?” Carpenter asked. 

Graykowski highlighted workforce issues in the United States, noting there is a general lack of good-paying manufacturing jobs in the country. Our workforce is aging, and we need to attract new people, he said. “Manufacturing lends itself to folks that don’t necessarily want to go to college, but you can learn a trade and earn a very significant good salary.

His comments align with insights from the International WorkBoat Show panel titled "Shipyard Realities", where Joey D’Isernia, chairman and CEO of Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Panama City, Fla., noted the nationwide lack of emphasis on industrial trades, not just shipbuilding, and it’s negative effect on the culture of the young. “Our country needs to do a better job of putting trades in front of them,” D’Isernia said last fall.

Graykowski also spoke to the difficulty of building incredibly complex vessels with pride. “They’re just masterpieces. And the best representation of something that America can produce, sails around the world and says, in my case, ‘Made in Philly’”.

Reflecting on his tenure at the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and his work on the National Shipbuilding Initiative, Graykowski emphasized the importance of the Jones Act, which supports around 650,000 jobs, many within shipyards. “What strikes me as baffling, if you strip down the arguments of ‘if we just bought ships from Korea or China, it’d be cheaper. The assumption there is if the ships are cheaper, the cost of transportation will be cheaper, and the goods will be cheaper for consumers. I think those are challengeable concepts.”

The discussion also touched on novel propulsion technologies like liquid natural gas (LNG) and the challenges of building ships without the necessary infrastructure, or vice versa. Graykowski mentioned the regulatory uncertainty surrounding emerging technologies. “You see that a little bit on wind, and on some of the more, I call them exotic, but if you look at ammonia, hydrogen and even nuclear. The regulatory structure needs to sort of keep pace in parallel with the technological developments,” he said.

Overall, the podcast highlighted the critical role of shipbuilding in the U.S. economy and the need to address workforce and regulatory challenges to maintain the industry’s vitality. The entire podcast can be viewed in the video below.

Ben Hayden is a Maine resident who grew up in the shipyards of northern Massachusetts. He can be reached at (207) 842-5430 and [email protected].