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Study finds U.S. ports contributed $5.4 trillion to GDP

The report found the nation’s seaports’ contributions to the economy have increased since the previous nationwide report published in 2014.

   The U.S. coastal port sector generated 2.2 million direct, induced and indirect jobs, and marine cargo activity generated about $5.4 trillion of total economic activity last year, according to the 2018 National Economic Impact of the U.S. Coastal Port System released Wednesday by Martin Associates.
   John Martin, president and founder of the Lancaster, Pa.-based firm, presented the report during the second day of the American Association of Port Authorities’ (AAPA) 2019 Spring Conference in Washington, D.C. 
   Compared to Martin Associates’ previous nationwide ports economic impact study, America’s seaports’ contributions to the nation’s economy have increased across the board. 
   From 2014 to 2018, the total number of jobs supported by seaport activity grew by 7.7 million to 30.8 million in 2018. In addition to the 2.2 million direct, induced and indirect jobs, 28.6 million were associated with exporters and importers and users of the coastal seaports.
   The $5.4 trillion in economic activity represented about 26 percent of America’s $20.9 trillion gross domestic product reported in the fourth quarter of 2018, which was the same percentage of the GDP from 2014. The economic activity grew, however, by $816 billion.
   Direct business revenue received by firms providing direct services to cargo and vessels accounted for $184.1 billion. Of that money, $40.9 billion was used to pay the salaries of 652,078 direct job holders, which equated to an average annual income of $62,800, a 17 percent increase from the previous report.
   The impact of the re-spending effect caused by consumption purchases by direct job holders was estimated at $139.2 billion. The remaining $5.1 trillion represented the output created by cargo moving via the coastal ports, including “the value added at each stage of producing an export cargo, as well as the value added at each stage of production for the firms using imported raw materials and intermediate products that flow via the marine terminals,” the report reads.
   A total of $378.1 billion of total federal, state and local taxes were generated by maritime activity at coastal ports in 2018, which was nearly an 18 percent jump from 2014. The 2018 taxes included $47.1 billion of direct, induced and indirect federal, state and local tax revenue and $331 billion of federal, state and local tax revenue created by the economic activity of exporters and importers using the deepwater coastal port system.  
   “This growth in jobs and economic value of the seaports reflects the growth of 165 million tons of international cargo since 2014 and underscores the importance of continued investment in port and intermodal infrastructure by both the public and private sectors to support the growing importance of international trade to the U.S. economy,” the report reads.
   Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s president and CEO, said there is an urgent need for more federal investment to enhance the connections with ports. AAPA’s U.S. member ports have identified $66 billion in needed investments over the next 10 years, he said. 
   “These necessary federal channel, terminal, road, rail, bridge and tunnel improvements are crucial to enable our seaports to efficiently handle their expected cargo volumes, continue providing dramatic economic and jobs impacts and enhance America’s international competitiveness,” he said.