Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series. Coming next: how the seafood industry helps drive the regional economy in the Tongass National Forest.
The maritime industry in Southeast Alaska – home to the Tongass National Forest — is experiencing major growth.
Since 2010, the maritime sector has expanded by 14-percent or nearly 900 jobs. Wages also grew by $76.4 million or 24-percent, according to a new report by the Southeast Conference.
Various industries make up the maritime sector, including ocean transportation, shipbuilding, seafood, tourism and Coast Guard. Aside from government jobs, maritime comprises the largest sector of the regional economy with 7,035 jobs and $392 million in associated wages.
“A big part of the growth we’re seeing has to do with the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard’s 17th District, which oversees all of Alaska and more than 44,000 miles of coastline, is based in Juneau. Because of Arctic warming and retreating sea ice, we’re seeing increased ship traffic and as a result the Coast Guard has added 250 jobs since 2010. These tend to be manager-level, high-wage jobs,” said Meilani Schijvens of Rain Coast Data, who authored the report.
Seafood makes up the largest component of the Southeast maritime sector, with 60-percent of all maritime jobs. When private and Coast Guard jobs are added together, the maritime sector directly accounts for 18-percent of all employment-related income and 15-percent of all Southeast Alaska employment.
Nearly every element of the Southeast economy is intermingled with the maritime sector, the report finds. This region of temperate rain forest and islands depends on barges to import most of its commodities. Some 3,000 commercial fishing vessels are home ported in Southeast, and nearly a million people visit Southeast Alaska communities on 500 cruise ship voyages in the summer. A quarter million more arrived by ferry in 2013.
The outlook for the maritime sector is very promising.
In September, the Parnell administration awarded a nearly $120 million contract for two state ferries to be constructed at a shipyard in Ketchikan. It’s the first time that state ferries have ever been manufactured in Alaska.
“These vessels will be the largest ships ever built in Alaska,’ Gov. Sean Parnell said in a press statement. “Building these ferries in state will be a major boost for Alaska’s economy. This has been our intent during the entire process and will help create hundreds of new year-round jobs at the Ketchikan shipyard, while helping Ketchikan develop a highly capable workforce, not only for the growing marine economy of Southeast Alaska, but with skills that can translate into work across the state.”
Doug Ward, director of shipyard development, at Alaska Ship & Drydock, said an estimated 22.3 million in total wages will be generated over the four-year life of the project.
“There’ll be additional 9.8 million in local spending for a total impact of 32.1 million from wages and spending. It’s more than a big boost to Ketchikan and regional economy,” said Ward.
It’s only been in the last two years or so that people are starting to realize that Alaska has an emerging maritime industry that’s an important employer, Ward said.
“We’re starting to understand that maritime isn’t just seafood and fish processing.”
In addition to shipbuilding and the Coast Guard’s growing presence, increasing marine transportation and a rebounding tourism market are also adding to the marine sector’s growth in Southeast, according to the report.