A new study commissioned by American Waterways Operators and the U.S. Maritime Administration illustrates the many benefits of barge transportation, ranging from safe and cost-effective movement of commodities to thousands of jobs that depend on waterborne transportation.

Prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the study quantifies the contribution that the nation’s 5,500 U.S.-flagged tugboats and towboats and 31,000 barges make to the economy, tax base and employment at both the national and state levels.

The report, funded jointly by Marad and AWO, also addressed the indirect impact that the industry makes by purchasing goods and services from other sectors, as well as personal consumption resulting from workers spending their pay in their communities and elsewhere.

AWO says the study provides much-needed and modern data that will help tell the barge industry’s “untold” story to policymakers, the public and the media. The report is also timely as it will bolster arguments that waterways be included in the Trump administration’s promised plan to overhaul the nation’s aging infrastructure, according to AWO officials.

“Our most enduring problem is our invisibility to the general public and decision-makers in Washington,” Thomas Allegretti, AWO’s CEO and president, said in an interview. “This study talks about the importance of the industry to the country and our obligation is to share it widely to all those who legislate or regulate our industry.”

He said that the report demonstrates that previous investments in waterways infrastructure have been worth it, as they have helped the industry and the economy grow, and that future investments will continue to produce strong benefits.

The study also provides barge operators with accurate and up-to-date data and information that will help them educate people in their communities about the work they do, added Jennifer Carpenter, AWO’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. She said for the first time the industry will have its own data that reflects both the inland and coastal sectors, and won’t need to rely on information gleaned from general maritime industry studies that are often decades old.

One standout figure in the report is that the industry added 5,000 new jobs over the past 20 years, Allegretti said, while Carpenter noted that every direct job in the barge industry generated five others in the economy. “That multiplier is on the high end,” she said.

Among the study’s other highlights (reflecting data from 2014):

  •  A total of 301,550 jobs were directly or indirectly tied to the industry
  •  The tug and barge industry contributed $33.8 billion a year to the national economy.
  •  Operators paid out $4.7 billion in compensation (an average of $93,835 per worker) and invested nearly $2.2 billion in property, equipment and vessels.
  •  Barges moved more than 760 million tons annually of petroleum, farm products, chemicals, coal and manufactured goods.
  •  The industry directly paid or collected nearly $1.2 billion in federal, state and local taxes.
  •  Barges provide efficient and environment-friendly transport. One inland barge hauling 1,750 tons of cargo is the equivalent of 16 bulk rail cars or 70 tractor trailers. A liquid barge can haul 27,500 barrels of liquid, the equivalent of 46 rail cars or 144 tanker trucks.

The study provides insights into the importance of inland transportation to 38 states where the barge industry is most active. Louisiana tops the list (15,620 workers), followed by Texas (5,560), Kentucky (3,320), Florida (2,680) and New York (2,470). These five states accounted for 59 percent of all direct employment in the industry.

It also notes environmental and cost benefits. “The industry provides an efficient, low-cost method for transporting a broad range of commodities,” the report said, adding that these savings mean lower costs for consumers. “Furthermore, studies show that barge transport tends to be more fuel efficient and have a lower environmental footprint.”

The AWO study produced different employment numbers than another industry-funded study that is used to advocate for the barge industry and infrastructure spending.

A report published in 2014 by the University of Kentucky and University of Tennessee for the Waterways Council Inc., gives a more robust figure for total employment (direct and indirect jobs linked to the barge industry) at 541,000. The AWO report puts total employment at 301,550, or 240,000 fewer.

Carpenter said the WCI study "looked at a completely different economic universe,” used different methodology and can’t be compared to the AWO report. As such, she said there are no inconsistencies in the industry’s message. She said AWO will be using their study’s data on employment and economic activity to explain the industry’s impact.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.