By Scott Sullivan
The Michigan Port Collaborative April 18 released results of a Full Spectrum study showing the total economic impact of state ports and harbors was approximately $19.7 billion, four times higher than any previous statewide port and harbor impact study.
It also estimated that 151,000 fulltime equivalent jobs were supported by economic activity associated with state ports and harbors during the period evaluated starting in November 2017.
Findings were announced during a full-day conference and workshop in Lansing attended by numerous state officials. It included video statements by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow.
MPC president Felicia Fairchild, former director of the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Full Spectrum study differed from past ones by combining traditional maritime measurements with gauges including economic drivers, like tourism and recreation, for individual ports.
“We had a hunch the economic value of our ports and harbors was far greater than previously reported,” Fairchild said.
The 501c3 collaborative commissioned Institute for Service Research executive director Vincent Magnini and Bill Boik, retired from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to conduct a 9-day tour of port and harbor communities that helped finance the project. Assisting their research was John Crotts of Charleston, S.C.
Participating communities included Saugatuck, Douglas, South Haven, St. Joseph, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Detroit, Traverse City, Marquette and more via matching grants through the Michigan Waterways Commission.
The study estimated $7.7 billion in labor income can be attributed to economic activity of state ports and harbors; water-based tourism and recreation economic impacts are nearly four times the size of commercial ones; the state and municipalities within it collected an estimated $1 billion in tax revenues in 2017 due to water-based tourism and recreation; and the federal government witnessed approximately $1.3 billion in tax revenues that year as a consequence.
When Great Lakes levels dropped drastically in 2009, concern regarding the economic viability of Michigan ports began to wane at state and federal levels, MPC secretary Denny Blue said.
Dredging and infrastructure challenges caused by low water levels created a trend in thinking among some state officials that ports and harbors were an economic liability.
“We wanted to challenge that trend in thinking,” said MPC vice president Don Gilmet. “Michigan harbors are the front doors to our communities.”