Shipbuilding data tells a bigger story

By Jerry Fraser, WorkBoat publisher

Take it from an ex-commercial fisherman: if you have water in your veins (seawater or brown), there are far worse places to be than the U.S. shipbuilding industry.

The Maritime Administration’s 2015 report, “The Economic Importance of the U.S. Shipbuilding and Repairing Industry,” is a reminder that maritime commerce is a crucial component of the U.S. economy and is likely to remain so. Dated this month and based on 2013 data, the Marad report is written in language most familiar to economists, but its observations are accessible to all of us.

The headline – that shipbuilding and repair is worth $37 billion, in total impacts, to the U.S. gross domestic product, supporting 400,000 jobs and paychecks in the order of $25 billion – if not surprising to us, ought to be an eye-opener for those outside our industry.

Drill down and the news is still good. A majority of states, 27, have active shipyards. In 16 of these states, shipyards directly employ more than 1,000 workers. This is not only good news economically, but politically: the states are red and blue and are home to 320 of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Only 12 states have zero employment directly attributable to shipbuilding and repair.

If, as investors like to say, the trend is your friend, it’s worth taking a look back. For example, the 2013 Marad report, based on 2011 data, found 117 active shipyards. The more recent report finds 124.

Total employment was down by 0.6 percent in the 2015 report, but total economic impact increased $1.3 billion between the 2013 and 2015 reports.

We’ve seen some consolidation in the last year or so with the cyclical downturn in the fortunes of the energy sector. By the same token, we’ve seen inland expansion, and the cheaper oil prices that have stung some of us are spurring investment among others. And local, state and federal agencies will always need vessels for life safety, law enforcement, and the national defense.

It’s easy to say that mile markers such as the Marad report help us take stock and plan for the years ahead. But the report’s ultimate value is as information that underlines for our countrymen the vital importance of the U.S. shipbuilding and repair industry.

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