America's seaports critical to US jobs, economy

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Failure to recognize the critical role seaports play in the nation’s economy not only impacts America’s ability to remain globally competitive, but also our ability to create high-paying jobs. Increased investment in waterways and seaports by the federal government would create thousands of long-term jobs, result in billions of dollars added to the GDP and ensure a comprehensive transportation system that moves goods efficiently and effectively throughout the United States and beyond. 

A recent study by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) found that by 2020, there will be an estimated 738,000 fewer jobs created if the U.S. continues its current level of investment in seaports. By 2040, these job losses will amount to 1.4 million. Released shortly after the Department of Labor’s August jobs report showing disappointing hiring rates, these findings are a clear indicator that we must significantly increase investment in sectors that are critical to the national economy, like infrastructure and transportation.    

The report, “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Airports, Inland Waterways, and Marine Ports,” found that to accommodate growth in waterborne traffic, future spending needs are estimated to total $30 billion by 2020 and $92 billion by 2040—a funding gap of almost $46 billion by 2040 based on current spending levels and a significant discrepancy that will have major implications on our nation’s GDP and ability to remain competitive in a global marketplace. 

The report concluded that if current investment levels continue, losses will accumulate every year culminating in a total loss of nearly $4 trillion to the national GDP and $7.9 trillion in lost businesses sales through 2040. 

And while the threat of sequestration in January could mean sweeping cuts in all federal programs, it is important that investments in transportation infrastructure are recognized as an essential, effective utilization of limited federal resources, paying dividends through increased trade, jobs and tax revenues. Evident by the report findings, budget cuts to our waterways and seaports equate to even higher job losses and reduced GDP, which will only increase our nation’s deficit. 

Fortunately this fall will bring us more than just cooler temperatures; it also brings a presidential election, making this year a critical milestone in the fight for increased federal funding for transportation infrastructure to ensure that we can continue to move goods throughout the country and beyond for many more years to come. 

Nagle serves as the president and CEO, American Association of Port Authorities. Bridges serves as the executive director, Virginia Port Authority and chairman, American Association of Port Authorities.