Ports Are Critical To U.S. Economy's Health - 'Seaports Magazine' -- Spring 2014


By Congressman Scott Peters

Ports play a strategic role in our national competitiveness and are vital to keeping the United States at the top of the global economy in coming years. Our ports connect farmers in Iowa, automakers in Michigan, and manufacturers in California to markets around the world.

Unfortunately, Congressional gridlock and an unstable budget picture have marred our nation’s ability to effectively plan for the future. This has hindered every sector of the economy including our country’s ports, which have long been the hub of international trade.

But the more than 300 ports in North America are bigger than just doors to the global marketplace; they provide an often overlooked first line of homeland security, play a role in environmental sustainability, and support millions of well-paying jobs here at home. As a former Commissioner, and chairman, of the San Diego Unified Port District, I know that we must invest in our nation’s ports if we will grow our economy.

The challenges of working in a bitterly divided Congress are great but not insurmountable. Despite the tight budget, we cannot put off vital investments that will yield continued growth and future job creation. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which as of writing is in a conference between the two chambers, is an opportunity for bipartisanship. The current version would maintain our waterways, allowing export growth.

Further, as Congress begins to contemplate surface transportation reauthorization, I will work to ensure that ports are better integrated into the larger transportation system and that there is a better emphasis on the role ports play in freight movements. Better connections mean greater movement of goods, which translates into job growth here in America.

I have seen firsthand the positive economic impact that ports have in regional and national economies. My home port, the Port of San Diego generates economic activity both locally and nationally that is being replicated by ports across the continent. Just in San Diego, the Port is home to more than 11,000 industrial and maritime jobs that are high-paying and high-quality, while generating $1.65 billion in direct economic activity.

Given that U.S. ports see more than 2 billion tons of cargo annually, and that the American trade volume is expected to double by 2021, now is the time to be investing in infrastructure in and around our ports. This must come through WRRDA and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, as well as through preservation of the TIGER grant program.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nation’s ports a ‘C’ grade because the Federal investment has declined. We’ve got to be smarter and more strategic in our efforts to improve the connections between our ports and the road and rail networks so as to ensure a more effective and efficient movement. That makes economic sense and must be a priority.

Raising awareness of the role ports play in the national economy, not just in the coastal regions near individual ports, is critical to our country’s economic success. The effort to inform Members of Congress and other government agencies about the need to support and invest in our nation’s ports, for economic, security, and competitiveness reasons, will be a long process but must happen.

It is no coincidence that the growth in value of waterborne U.S. exports was higher than the rest of the economy in 2012 and that our trade deficit was at its lowest level in years. It is no secret that ports and waterways are key investments that benefit all 50 states. Let’s work together to make the Federal Government a stronger partner in supporting the engine of economic growth.

Congressman Scott Peters represents the 52nd District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a former San Diego City Councilman and served on the San Diego Unified Port Commission from 2008-2012.