The July release of “Economic Impacts of Maritime Shipping in the Great Lakes — St. Lawrence Region” was a landmark achievement. This study updates the previous binational economic impact study completed in 2011. It also represents the most comprehensive and in-depth analysis ever completed of the U.S. and Canadian impacts and benefits of commercial navigation in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway/St. Lawrence River region.
The detailed nature of this study, completed by Martin Associates, sets it apart from any previous analysis. This study measures the impacts of cargo movements during the 2017 navigation season at 40 Canadian and U.S. ports. More than 770 individual firms, with 1,105 operations throughout the region, were interviewed. From the unprecedentedly large database created, economic impact models were developed to expand the 40-port impacts to the state and provincial levels. This is the most complete and accurate database ever assembled on the economic activities related to commercial navigation on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System.
The study makes clear that commercial maritime navigation in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System directly and significantly supports the vibrant and immense economies of the region’s eight Great Lakes States and two Provinces. If these States and Provinces were considered as a single economy, their combined economic output, in terms of Gross Domestic Product, would constitute the third largest economy in the world, after the United States and China. With economic output estimated at US$6 trillion in 2017, the region accounts for 30 percent of combined Canadian and U.S. economic activity and employment
Within this massive regional economy, commercial maritime navigation in the Great Lakes Seaway System moves 143.5 million metric tons of cargo valued at US$15.2 billion dollars. This commercial activity supports 237,868 jobs in the U.S. and Canada and US$35 billion dollars of economic activity. If you expand the geographic analysis of the impacts to include commercial traffic along the St. Lawrence River below Montreal (within Quebec), the study shows that cargo moved within the Great Lakes/Seaway/ St. Lawrence River region equals 230.9 million metric tons valued at US$77.4 billion dollars and sustains 328,543 jobs and US$45.6 billion in economic activity.
I clearly remember the context within which this study’s predecessor was completed and released back in 2011. At that time, the public debate surrounding the benefits of commercial navigation was intense and decidedly skeptical — if not hostile — to the idea that commercial navigation contributed significantly to the economy and overall quality of life of the region. At that time, there was little data available on the topic, and what data were available were woefully inadequate, incomplete, and in many cases, inaccurate. It was at that moment that a broad-based, binational group of stakeholders decided to come together to do the hard work of researching how and to what extent commercial navigation provided economic benefits to the region.
Such an analysis and the commitment to publish the results no matter what they showed had never been done before. It was a bold, but necessary commitment; bold because no one knew what the overall impacts were as no prior study of this type existed, and necessary because the public was demanding a full and fair accounting of what, exactly, commercial navigation’s contributions to the region were. The publication of that 2011 study was a watershed moment for the Great Lakes Seaway System. That study, so carefully designed to be accurate, comprehensive, and credible, fundamentally changed the nature of the public debate about commercial navigation’s contributions to the quality of life in the Great Lakes region.
This year’s study won’t radically change the nature of the public discourse. But it doesn’t have to — and that is what makes it so significant. The public still demands this information, just as it did seven years ago, but the data are now needed so that the public can better understand what it knows to be true: that commercial navigation provides tremendous economic benefits to the citizens of the region. The ability to again provide the public with complete and accurate information regarding one of the most complicated international waterways in the world is a landmark achievement.
The overall quality of public discourse on why commercial navigation matters has improved tremendously since 2011. That’s good news for everybody. This year’s economic impact study provides up-to-date, accurate, and even more data on how commercial navigation provides economic benefits to the citizens of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Region. That’s an historic achievement worth celebrating.