By Nolan Klouda, CED Executive Director
CED was in the news last week for our report on boat and ship building in Alaska. It was fun to learn about the state’s vessel builders, which range from one person operations to Vigor’s Ketchikan Shipyard with hundreds of workers. We found that boat building—an ancient craft in many respects—has room for new product development, use of technology, and incorporation of new materials.
Maritime companies in Alaska mix old and new.
For example, Class 5 Boatworks in Fairbanks: they build nearly indestructible river boats from high density plastic, cut in sheets by a computer numerical control (CNC) machine and welded together. Others in the state are building hovercrafts, electric vessels, and a host of seiners, gillneters, charter boats, landing craft, and bowpickers.
So why did CED do a study on boat building? Well, about nine months ago we were drinking coffee while discussing the ways our state economy is changing and lamenting that no one had spent time exploring emerging industries with growth potential. And then we realized - why not us? Spurred into action, we teamed up with the Division of Economic Development to conduct a series of reports, each profiling an emerging sector. Altogether, there will be at least five Emerging Sector reports. Boats and ships will be followed by renewable energy, aviation, outdoor recreation, and food and agriculture.
Boats and ships intrigued us for several reasons. To start with, Alaska has a relatively large market for vessels. McDowell’s excellent 2014 report pointed out that there are over 9,000 vessels in Alaska greater than 28 feet, and they are aging fast. So much of the maritime sector is driven by Puget Sound, where many of these boats are built and serviced. But the potential for Alaskan firms to capture a larger share of this market could yield high payoffs. My back-of-the-envelope analysis shows that for every five ship building or repairing jobs in Alaska, four are created in the rest of the economy through indirect or induced effects.
Alaskans also understand marine transportation. We’re a maritime state with a larger seafood harvest than all others combined.
Here at CED we’re elated by the positive response to our boat and ship building report just released. As much fun as it was to learn the stories of the entrepreneurs behind these companies, we’re even more excited about what is to come and looking forward to watching Alaskans capitalize on the opportunities offered by this exciting old yet new industry sector!