Speakers See Maritime Job Opportunities in Something Old, New

April 2011

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The respective presidents of a windfarm company and a shipbuilders association stressed abundant job opportunities that exist in both industries when they spoke to the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department executive board Feb. 25.


Cape Wind Associates President Jim Gordon and Shipbuilders Council of America President Matt Paxton represent mostly divergent industries, but when it comes to the potential for sustaining and adding maritime jobs, those industries may have much in common.


Gordon’s company is building the nation’s first offshore wind farm, on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound – an MTD- and SIU-backed project that has been 10 years in the making.


“It’s going to create jobs,” he stated. “The Energy Department estimates the construction alone will create 40,000 jobs. This does not include the supply chain that, once this market explodes … we will supply our nation’s energy from the natural winds blowing off our coasts. This will improve our quality of life, it will create economic prosperity and it will create better national security.”


He declared, “This project is going to be constructed with union labor…. There’s going to be a lot of jobs that are going to come out of this industry.” Gordon also pointed out that projects like Cape Wind could mean new work for American shipyards that build special-purpose vessels to install the gear and for mariners who sail the ships that service the farms.


Offering background on the venture, Gordon shook his head as he recalled, “We thought that when we announced this project, we would be paraded down Main Street in Hyannis as heroes.” Reality proved different, in part because the proposed location is surrounded by affluent opposition.


“This is a project that would offset almost one million tons of greenhouse gasses annually,” he explained. “We were proposing a project … with zero pollutant emissions, zero water consumption and zero waste discharge.”


The project’s opponents included an opposition group described by Gordon as consisting of “wealthy waterfront trophy homeowners and some entrenched business interests.” Among the former were some of the same individuals who financed the campaigns of anti-worker governors now attacking collective bargaining rights in various states.


Wind-farm proponents turned to organized labor “and said this is what we’re trying to do. This is what this project means to the nation,” Gordon said. “This is the resource we have off of both our coasts. We have over 900,000 megawatts of offshore wind blowing off our coats. To put that in perspective, the installed generation capacity in the United States today is about 980,000 megawatts. So we could produce within five to 50 nautical miles of our coast, almost 100 percent of the electricity this nation needs, with zero pollution emissions, zero water consumption, zero waste discharge – and using American talent, American skills, American labor.”


Gordon estimates it will take two years to build the first U.S. offshore wind farm. The Cape Wind project already has the required permits and is “in the financing stage.”


He concluded, “We need a lot of energy. We need oil, we need coal, but we also need to diversify, and bringing renewable energy makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense for your unions in particular because you are the people that are going to build the nation’s offshore wind infrastructure…. Once the nation sees the first offshore wind project operating, and that it’s producing all these benefits, the market will explode, just like it has in the United Kingdom.”


Paxton’s group consists of 44 companies that own and operate more than 100 American shipyards. (It also represents dozens of affiliate firms that provide goods and services to the shipyard industry.) He began by telling the board, “I think there’s a misconception out there that there are no shipyards left. There’s a vibrant U.S. commercial shipyard industry…. We are on every coast of the United States, Alaska and Hawaii.”


However, things have gone downhill. In the early 1980s the commercial yards had nearly 200,000 “direct” employees. “Today we represent less than one percent of the world’s shipbuilding output, and our employment is down to 85,000,” Paxton said. “Those jobs have a multiplier effect of roughly four related shore-side jobs for each shipyard job.”


Nevertheless, “We think we still have some opportunities,” he continued. For instance, he sees the U.S. Transportation Department’s marine highways program as having great potential.


“We support it and we build for it,” Paxton said. “What we think can happen is, we can have a short-sea component to our domestic commerce that can be very Navy useful. At a moment’s notice, these dual-use roll-on/roll-off vessels can be called into action.”


When it comes to renewable energy, “U.S. shipyards can build every asset needed for this industry…. What we mustn’t do at the outset of a new, emerging market is say, ‘Well guys, just give an exemption for the vessels. Because the next thing they’ll say is give us an exemption for the taxes and the labor and everything else. And pretty soon we’ll have [foreign]-built ships putting in these installations with foreign crews.”


Paxton also urged the board not to overlook the servicing needs of the offshore wind equipment, much of which has to be visited at least monthly. “There’s an estimate out there that if we fully realize our East Coast wind capability, that would be 60,000 wind turbines off the coast. That means 60,000 moves would have to take place to maintain these things monthly,” he observed. “That’s a lot of work – that’s seafarers, that’s skilled craftsmen, that’s a big deal for us. We mustn’t lose this market. We can do this and we should be excited about this. I think this has big, big potential for my industry and for yours, too.”

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Jim Gordon

Jim Gordon, President, Cape Wind Associates.


Matt Paxton

Matt Paxton, President, Shipbuilders Council of America.