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Maritime remains crucial to Washington’s economy

From ship repair and building to trade and cruise ships, the state’s maritime sector is a significant presence.

This is technopolis, with self-absorbed overpaid coders wandering the sidewalks, pushing aside mere mortals. But wait. One of the region’s oldest industries remains vital and growing. That would be Washington’s cluster of maritime sectors, according to a new report from the consultants Community Attributes.

As of 2015, the latest year for which deep-dive data are available, maritime directly employed 69,500 people, many in high-paid jobs. That was 2.2 percent of all jobs in the state. Another 191,100 jobs were indirectly supported by maritime. By comparison, 55,900 worked in the information-software publishing sector in 2015, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The Maritime Sector has impacts that spread throughout Washington’s economy. Maritime businesses make purchases from other industries, driving indirect impacts,” the report says. “The industry’s labor income impacts were also significant: for every dollar in direct labor income paid to workers in Washington’s Maritime Sector, an additional $1.06 in labor income was supported elsewhere in the state economy.”

When we’re talking maritime, which is focused on Puget Sound, it’s a diverse set of sectors: logistics and shipping, including the Northwest Seaport Alliance of the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma, plus railroads and trucking; marine construction; recreational boat building; fishing and seafood processing; shipbuilding maintenance and repair, including the 13,400 workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, as well as technical services, water transport, and the calls and homeporting of cruise ships.

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Speaking of cruise liners: In 2000, about 120,000 passengers came through the Port of Seattle. This year, an estimated 1 million will do so.

The overall maritime sector also grew. In 2012, 64,300 jobs and $19.9 billion in revenue, compared with the 69,500 jobs and $21.4 billion in revenue for 2015.

The report doesn’t account for the improvements in market share thanks to the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which began operating as a combined entity late in 2015. It will also be interesting to see how the trade-dependent slice of maritime has been affected by the world slowdown (which may be reversing).

As for the normative economics, i.e. making judgments, that’s where I come in. Maritime remains highly important to the state, region and Seattle, not only in its own right but to maintain a diversified economy. Many of the jobs pay well for skills that can be acquired in community colleges and union apprenticeship programs. The sector also faces challenges, which this column has detailed before. Among them is competition from other ports, questions over the new administration’s trade policy and the need for continued investment in…

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