We think of ourselves in a lot of ways here on the SouthCoast. Some good, some not so good.
We certainly think of ourselves as a fishing region and we know about our whaling history, and the beautiful shoreline and the scenic farmland.
But though we know about fishing, both scalloping and even groundfishing, we don’t really have much of a regional awareness of just how big the local marine economy is, and just how far the ocean economy goes beyond fishing.
UMass Dartmouth had a big conference this past April about what they’re calling the “blue economy.” Speakers came from across the country, including national groups the National Council on Competitiveness and the New England Council, and converged on the campus to talk about the value of branding a region that stretches roughly from Cape Cod to the Rhode Island shore as the SouthCoast Blue Economy Corridor.
You might be surprised to learn how extensive that economy is, how it includes businesses as diverse as marine construction and research, ship and boat building, tourism and recreation.
The folks over at the UMD Public Policy Center say the Massachusetts maritime economy pays some $3.4 billion in total wages to more than 90,000 workers, and the biggest part of that economy is on SouthCoast and Cape Cod.
You might not be surprised to learn that New Bedford, the No. 1 fishing port in the nation for more than a decade, was responsible for 47.5 percent of the pounds of fish landed and 67.5 percent of the value of that seafood. But did you know that there are 40 ship and boat building and repair establishments in Southern New England that pay some $17 million in wages to 375 workers? Or that, although 70,000 people earn $1.177 billion in the state tourism and recreation industry, SouthCoast has no cohesive tourism strategy, according to a UMD white paper on the blue economy.
The white paper, by UMass Chancellor Robert Johnson and William Bates of the Council on Competitiveness, talks about the importance of the region branding itself as a blue economy center. Think Silicon Valley. Think Detroit and the automobile industry in the mid 20th century.
The paper also talks about the importance of different businesses, cities and towns and institutions of higher learning in the region working collaboratively on promoting and developing the blue economy. UMD as the region’s only Tier 1 research university will naturally play a big role in spurring innovation.
None of this is especially new.
SMAST professor Kevin Stokesbury and his team developed the device that is credited with saving the city’s scallop industry almost two decades ago. He’s since done a similar device for groundfishing that one day will hopefully pay similar dividends.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has been driving marine exploration and research businesses for years and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport has been doing the same sort of thing on the military side of things.
For the future, UMD and the SouthCoast Development Partnership will develop a Blue Corridor strategic plan. And there are plans to connect UMD’s research departments to collaborate in marine technology research. There will also be external collaborations between UMD and Woods Hole, Mass Maritime Academy and Bristol Community College.
It’s all pretty wonky economic development stuff. The kind of planning on paper that will hopefully lead to real development in real life. Sometimes I think that true economic development is a little more organic than this kind of planning but it can’t be a bad thing to be thinking ahead in terms of a concerted push to make the SouthCoast a sort of Route 128 of marine science.
Imagine that. The SouthCoast, Cape Cod and Rhode Island known all over the world as a center of the blue economy. And UMass Dartmouth as the school that drives it.
Jack Spillane is the Sunday and editorial page editor of The Standard-Times and SouthCoastToday.