NEW BEDFORD — The Port of New Bedford had a $9.8 billion economic value in 2015 and generates more than 36,000 jobs in the region, according to a new state-funded study that city and waterfront leaders hope will spur additional state investment in harbor dredging and other improvements.
The study indicates the local port’s economic impact is comparable to that of the Port of Boston, which generated more than 50,000 jobs and had a total economic value of $4.6 billion in 2012, according to Martin Associates. The Pennsylvania-based firm also studied the Port of Boston’s economic impact in 2006, for the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), and has examined economic impacts of seaport activity in more than 120 U.S. and Canadian ports, from Seattle to Tampa.
Martin Associates also conducted the $80,000 Port of New Bedford study, which was funded by a grant from the state’s Seaport Economic Council and included interviews and surveys with 147 companies involved in local harbor-related business.
The port’s $9.8 billion economic value last year, “consists of the direct business revenue of $3.3 billion, the re-spending and local consumption impact of $429.4 million, and the related user output of $6.1 billion,” the study states.
Ed Anthes-Washburn, port director for the city’s Harbor Development Commission, said much of that impact comes from the waterfront’s seafood processing industry — and called the study’s results eye-opening.
“The value and number of jobs that’s associated with the processing industry is staggering,” he said last week. “The fact that that’s coming out of one, relatively small geographic area and provides so much value to the commonwealth as a whole, I think that’s what was surprising to me.”
The port’s value to all of Massachusetts is significant.
The $9.8 billion figure, “represents the sphere of influence of the processors, cargo operators, maritime services, ferries and harbor tours, as well as marinas in 2015, and accounts for 2 percent of the $481.6 billion gross domestic product for (Massachusetts),” the study states.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the analysis, “demonstrates clearly that the port is not only the centerpiece of the region’s economy, but also a major contributor to the overall Massachusetts economy.
“What is perhaps most illuminating is that it debunks the assumption that the Port of Boston is the only major industrial port in Massachusetts,” Mitchell added. “I believe that the study should light the way for important infrastructure investments in the Port of New Bedford in the years ahead.”
The study emphasizes potential benefits from increased harbor dredging.
“In New Bedford, the federal navigational channel has not been dredged to its authorized depth in more than 50 years,” it states. “As with all infrastructure, continued investment in dredging is greatly needed for the working waterfront to not only work at full capacity, but to create incentive for businesses to continue growing and investing in the city’s economy.”
Shoreline areas including the Marine Commerce Terminal, State Pier and more have been dredged since 2003, in the first four phases of an extensive project to restore the harbor to its federally authorized depth of about 30 feet, potentially enabling more ships and heavier cargo loads.
Roy Enoksen, president of Nordic Fisheries on the waterfront, said a deeper harbor could benefit all users along the city’s coast.
“It’s a big harbor here, but there isn’t a lot of water,” Enoksen said. “The lack of water is really a reason why the harbor isn’t maybe a little more busy than it is.”
Enoksen said Nordic Fisheries has 15 scallopers in its fleet, with another 15 boats that utilize the same docks. He said that as he looked across the harbor Wednesday, he saw plenty of room for growth.
“There’s an awful lot of space here that isn’t utilized because it isn’t deep enough,” he said. “But if you look at the places where boats can tie, it’s full.”
Anthes-Washburn said the fifth phase of dredging is planned near 25 commercial properties along the waterfront, on both the New Bedford and Fairhaven sides. Targeted areas include the Fairhaven Shipyard, Seaport Inn & Marina, Packer Marine, Moby Dick Marina, the Mar-Lees seafood processing plant and more.
When city and waterfront leaders approached Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration last year to request money for harbor dredging, state officials requested an economic study to quantify the potential impact.
With the Martin Associates data now on the books, Mitchell, Anthes-Washburn and others are hoping the state will view the Port of New Bedford as a strong investment.
Anthes-Washburn said the city is proposing a total cost to the state of about $20 million over five years, for a project that also could leverage about $75 million in federal dollars — and create about 900 new, permanent jobs, Martin Associates said, including about 400 that are directly generated on local waterfronts.
The study states that combining the fifth phase of local dredging along with long-overdue dredging of the federal navigational channel could create savings of nearly $10 million, primarily through use of a new, shared CAD cell in the harbor, to store dredged materials.
Anthes-Washburn said the city’s immediate cost need is $1.5 million, to design that CAD cell — and, ultimately, to keep the city’s working waterfront working.
Martin Associates said of the 36,578 jobs generated by the Port of New Bedford in 2015, 6,225 were directly generated by the seafood industry, marine cargo and marinas. Ninety-five percent of those workers live in Bristol County, the study states.
“Not only do you need dredging to ensure that those 6,200 jobs stay there, but with the additional berth dredging we can get another 900 jobs,” Anthes-Washburn said.
Martin Associates said annual economic benefits from the fifth phase of local dredging, and the federal navigational channel, could include more than $21 million in direct local income, nearly $26 million in local purchases and more than $11 million in state and local tax revenue.
“We have an opportunity to actually grow the fishing industry and get deeper ships if we’re brought down to our federally authorized depth of 30 feet,” Anthes-Washburn said. “There’s potentially a really big upside.”