The U.S. maritime industry is resilient, and as the backbone of America’s national and economic security, has delivered despite significant trials from natural disasters to foreign conflict. However, 2020 brought unprecedented challenge. Reduced demand and the increased operational costs that have accompanied some harsh new operating realities dampen hopes for an industry that will be critical if we are truly going to “Build Back Better.”
To ensure the maritime industry’s long-term viability as a critical engine of the U.S. economy, our country is in need of decisive leadership. From regulations, to shipbuilding, to port development, there are many areas that are in dire need of attention. It is our hope that the Biden administration will put the personnel and policies in place to make that a reality.
The bedrock of the maritime industry is the Jones Act, which just last year celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Throughout his long career in the U.S. Senate, President Biden was a steadfast ally of the U.S. maritime and shipbuilding industry. During the campaign, he said, “I have been a consistent and strong advocate for the Jones Act and its mandate that only U.S.-flagged vessels carry cargo in the coastwise trade. As president, I will continue my strong support for the Jones Act.”
The president’s continued support for the Jones Act, demonstrated by his “Buy American” Executive Order, is critical to growing a healthy economy, keeping our country safe and preserving the U.S. industrial base. Our industry has boosted our economy by supporting nearly 650,000 American jobs and contributing more than $150 billion annually to the U.S. economy.
These benefits will continue to increase as America’s shipbuilders begin building for the emerging offshore wind industry, the growth of which will be facilitated by the domestic maritime industry’s history of designing and innovating for new markets.
Offshore wind will provide opportunities for economic output and create more jobs while advancing our use of renewable energy, and U.S. shipbuilding and the domestic maritime industry will play a key role in bringing this to fruition. In this case, the Jones Act will help further the use of green energy in the United States while also increasing investment in our country’s workforce.
In this same vein, we welcome a return to multilateral cooperation and increased global trade. Increased trade opportunities mean more vessels in our customers’ fleets will be in the water and will translate to an increase in both new construction and repair business. To help facilitate additional cargo flow, we encourage increased investment in the development and expansion of domestic marine highway corridors on our coasts and inland waterways.
As a third-generation shipbuilder, I can say firsthand time for a national conversation about preserving this all-important industry. As countries like China and Russia continue to strengthen their economic and military presence around the globe, America needs its leaders to implement plans to ensure our industrial base is preserved and encouraged to grow. This is not only a matter of economic security, but also national security.
Continuing to maintain, modernize and build out the national security fleet will require a robust maritime defense industrial base. While government shipbuilding has remained the lone bright spot in the past few years, now is not the time to stop. It will require continued investment, predictability and stability from our government partners to ensure the industry can meet the challenge posed by near-peer adversaries such as China.
The U.S. maritime industry deserves the full attention of the new administration and dedicated leadership to ensure we have a committed voice at the table. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made under previous administrations where an official, full time appointment to head the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) was left unfilled for as much as four years.
The Biden administration should continue the successes of the last administration in this space, including strong support of the industry and investment in maritime education. It is important to remember that this leadership decision does not just have domestic policy implications but international as well.
As a “Tier A” member of the United Nations International Maritime Organization, it will be critical for the United States to re-engage with our international partners and reestablish our leadership in the international maritime space.
Our industry understands we have a responsibility not just to our employees and our customers, but to the country. We are committed to providing our customers the highest quality vessels to ensure goods and services continue to flow into the country’s heartland and abroad. We are also committed to providing our armed services with the finest, most durable vessels to protect our homeland and allies.
If we are going to “Build Back Better,” we need look no further than the U.S. maritime industry to deliver once again.
Ben Bordelon is President and CEO of Bollinger Shipyards. Mr. Bordelon also serves as the Chairman of the Shipbuilders Council of America.