Newport News Shipbuilding is the largest ship builder in the US, building nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. (Chris Oxley, Newport News Shipbuilding)
A new report on the US shipbuilding industry shows that, once again, Virginia — overwhelmingly — employs more shipyard workers than any other state, while Maine and Mississippi count on the industry for more than two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP).
More than 26,000 Virginians are directly employed by the shipbuilding industry and, when workers who provide shipyard services or other goods are factored in, the total jumps to over 63,000 jobs.
Mississippi relies the most on the industry for its state GDP, 2.2 percent, while Connecticut is just behind at 2.1 percent. Virginia, with a more diversified economy, draws 1.3 percent annually from the industry.
The figures are contained in a new report by the Maritime Administration (MARAD) on the economic importance of the US shipbuilding and repairing industry. The report, completed May 30 but made public on June 19, was done to “quantify the economic importance of the US private shipbuilding and repairing industry in 2011 in terms of employment, labor income and GDP,” according to MARAD.
The report draws no specific conclusions, but presents a wide range of statistics and figures illustrating the impact of the industry in the US.
The report noted that in 2011, the private shipbuilding and repairing industry directly provided 107,240 jobs, $7.9 billion in labor income, and $9.8 billion in national GDP. When indirect and induced factors are included, the figures jump to 402,010 jobs, $23.9 billion in labor income, and $36 billion in GDP.
MARAD notes that its figures do not include federal government employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed total employment in federal government-operated shipyards at 29,452 in 2011, up from 28,234 in 2010.
Overall revenues for the industry totaled $22.1 billion in 2010, falling to $21.9 billion in 2011. Initial estimates for 2012 indicate total revenues of only $19.7 billion, according to the report.
For 2012, military shipbuilding accounted for 60 percent of industry revenues. Commercial shipbuilding made up 22 percent, while ship repairs accounted for 18 percent.
Currently, 117 shipyards are in operation, spread across 26 states. Another 200 shipyards are engaged in ship repairs, or are capable of building ships but not actively doing so.
Included in the 117 active shipyards are the five “public” shipyards — the US Navy’s yards at Portsmouth, N.H.; Norfolk, Va.; Bremerton, Wash.; and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and the Coast Guard’s yard at Curtis Bay, Md. Six other yards are major shipyards capable of building large naval vessels or deep-draft ocean going commercial ships. The yards aren’t specifically listed, but they are the General Dynamics shipyards in Bath, Maine; Groton, Conn.; Quonset Point, R.I.; and San Diego, Calif.; and the Huntington Ingalls Industries yards in Newport News, Va.; Pascagoula, Miss.; and New Orleans, La.
Twenty other shipbuilders, according to the report, have large shipyards capable of building mid-sized to large merchant ships, mid-sized to large naval vessels, offshore drilling rigs and high-value, high-complexity smaller vessels.
Not surprisingly, the shipyards are concentrated in coastal states and along major inland waterways such as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The top five states — Virginia, California, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi — the report notes, account for 62 percent of all private employment in the industry.
An examination of industry costs, the report said, showed that purchases of raw materials and supplies used in the construction and repair of ships, including paints, steel plates, copper tubing, aluminum, and iron castings, account for an estimated 47.6 percent of total industry costs. Labor costs are the second largest expenditure for the industry, amounting to approximately 27.2 percent of costs. Depreciation, rent and utilities, marketing and other costs represent 25.2 percent of industry costs.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the US shipbuilding industry has run a foreign trade surplus in six of the last ten years, despite an increase in foreign competition. Exports by US shipbuilders have strengthened in recent years, according to the report, rising to $539.1 million in 2012. Over the past ten years combined, the industry has run a trade surplus of $410 million.
Imports of finished ships, inputs, and repair services amounted to $224.7 million in 2012, down from $239.4 million in 2010, according to MARAD.
The import/export picture is heavily influenced by the large amount of defense-related shipbuilding. Because defense contracts typically require access to sensitive military technology and information, the report said, the US government generally limits any foreign involvement in defense contracts.
“This report shows that wherever you live across the country, Americans benefit from opportunities generated by the shipbuilding and repair industry,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a press release accompanying the report. “Shipyards create quality jobs and support economic growth far beyond our nation’s ports and waterways.”
The Shipbuilders Council of America chimed in, claiming, “the report found that jobs in the shipyard industry paid $73,630 on average in 2011. That's 45 percent more than the $50,786 national average for the private sector economy.”
Industry analyst Tim Colton, commenting on the report on his web site, noted, “The bit about average pay being 45 percent above the national average is somewhat misleading. I would have split the data in two, to reflect what I believe to be the case that, largely thanks to the Navy, we have a relatively high proportion of well-paid salaried personnel, while our hourly employees are not overpaid at all.”
The MARAD report cited Colton’s Shipbuilding History web site as the source for much of its shipyard data — a situation Colton finds ironic.
“It used to be that we went to MARAD for data like these,” he wrote. “Remember the statutorily required Annual Survey of Shipbuilding, which MARAD stopped publishing in 2004? One of the reasons I started the statistical section of the Shipbuilding History web site was to compensate for MARAD's abandonment of that responsibility, and now, it seems, they come to me.”
The full report is available online.