A vibrant maritime economy means jobs

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, April 8, 2014

By Bradley Byrne

U.S. House of Representatives

“Whoever rules the waves rules the world.” Alfred Thayer Mahan, an American naval strategist and historian once called the most important American strategist of the 19th century, wrote these words as he referred to the importance of projecting power abroad through naval dominance. This mantra still holds true today not only as we build our future naval fleet, but also in terms of trade, as we build a diverse and thriving domestic maritime economy.

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In 1920, Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known today as the Jones Act after its author, Senator Wesley Jones (R-Wash.). This law applies to all aspects of the United States Merchant Marine, private vessels that constitute the lifeblood of American shipping power. On a domestic fleet of over 40,000 vessels, the industry moves all goods that are shipped between American ports and constitute the building blocks of American economic dominance, allowing us to ship these goods anywhere in the world.

The Jones Act mandates that all goods sent from an American port and bound for another be owned and operated by American merchants — and for good reason. This has a huge positive effect on local economies, ensuring that American ships and American jobs are being kept at home for commerce between American ports. Nationwide, the Jones Act is responsible for 480,000 jobs and a gross economic output of more than $92 billion annually. In Alabama’s 1st District, the Act supports 5,230 jobs, representing more than $450 million in labor income, making us 12th out of 435 districts for jobs related to Jones Act industries.

The Jones Act is also vitally important to our national security, which is why every modern administration has supported it.  American shipyards, vessels and sailors provide for secure domestic commerce on our waterways and provide our Navy with a reserve component in times of war. During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (2002-2008), U.S.-flag commercial vessels, including ships drawn from the domestic trades, transported 57 percent of all military cargoes moved to Afghanistan and Iraq.

As important, the American domestic fleet also provided fully half of the mariners used to crew U.S. government-owned sealift vessels activated from reserve status, which carried an additional 40 percent of the total cargoes delivered.

In southwest Alabama, we know that shipping is a crucially important part of our local economy. The Port supports 127,500 direct and indirect jobs, with $506 million in direct and indirect tax impact, and a total economic value of $18.7 billion. 25.3 million tons of cargo passed through the Port in 2013 — nearly 225,000 containers. As a major outlet for trade and shipping in the Southeast, this is an important selling point for our community as we continue to invite new manufacturers like Airbus to locate to southwest Alabama.

As our representative, I am committed to supporting this industry with a major economic impact in our area. A vibrant and thriving domestic shipping economy means Alabama jobs, greater prosperity, and opportunity for all of my constituents. I’ll continue working with these important job providers to ensure America remains a global economic powerhouse through a strong shipping and shipbuilding presence.