By Ed Royce, Policy Director, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
In a 1938 fireside chat, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Americans, “To reach a port we must set sail. Sail, not tie at anchor.
Sail, not drift.” He was pitching his vision for defeating the Great Depression. Today, FDR’s words could take on a more literal meaning. The ports he spoke about represent a gateway for the United States and, under the pandemic-induced stress on global supply chains, they are struggling.
But with urgent and sustained congressionally authorized federal support, the U.S. port infrastructure could be revitalized to greatly boost our economy.
Our country is one of the largest exporters of goods in the world, with hundreds of billions of dollars of agricultural items, energy, heavy machinery and innumerable goods being shipped through U.S. ports to foreign customers each year. Port facilities are a growing employer in the U.S. From 2014 to 2018, the number of American jobs supported by ports increased by 7.7 million to reach 30.8 million. Over the same period, the annual salary for port workers rose, as did the tax revenue and economic output generated by the port sector. Ports contributed to 26% of U.S. gross domestic product in 2018, totaling about $5.4 trillion.
This port growth highlights an opportunity to further strengthen the U.S. economy and create jobs. This will be especially important given the reality that some jobs lost to COVID-19 will not return. While there has been talk of reshoring supply chains, producing more medical supplies and pharmaceuticals would not make a dent in cargo shipping numbers, and world trade will recover. Increasing the amount of cargo moved through U.S. ports would ensure higher tax revenues, helping to offset the cost of government investment in our ports.