Economic study examines marine industry in area


The Bellingham/Whatcom Economic Development Council has teamed up with 13 Pacific Northwest organizations to develop the Northwest Washington Marine Industry Cluster Study with a $72,000 grant from the state.

The study, released in August, describes the total economic activity of ship building, boat building, boat dealerships and other marine industries in Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties.

“The strength of the industry depends on the competitive advantage we’ve got with the ports and land in those counties,” said Dodd Snodgrass, economic development specialist for the Port of Bellingham, one of the partners in the study.

Also involved in the study were Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research, the Northwest Workforce Development Council and Bellingham Technical College.

The study developed a directory of most of the marine industry businesses in the cluster, and highlighted significant numbers, including:

• Every job in the boat and ship building industry creates 1.2 jobs in other industries indirectly statewide;

• The output for the marine industry in the four counties is $362 million, with more than 4,000 jobs with wages totaling $150 million;

• The field is diverse, with both small, family-owned businesses as well as businesses recognized worldwide.

The study also recommend actions to develop the marine industry further. Those include developing an industry brand and strategic marketing program, providing training for safety and technical issues, implementing environmentally sound health and safety practices, and expanding and developing facilities.

“The recommendations pertain to the waterfront work we’re doing,” Snodgrass said.

He said the region of the waterfront near the former Georgia-Pacific mill, adjacent to the ASB pond the port is planning on developing into a marina, has a marine trades area designation. Snodgrass said marine industry already exists in the area, including the Boatyard at Colony Wharf. But with the redevelopment, the port has the opportunity to expand marine industries in Whatcom County.

Snodgrass said the numbers found in the study were encouraging, but that it did not account for some tangential industries to the marine industry in the county. One is Sampson Rope in Ferndale, one of the largest suppliers of cordage to marine industries in the world.

“There’s a lot of activity that we weren’t able to capture,” Snodgrass said.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Since the numbers are already good, he said, the addition of industries that have a support relationship to the marine industry makes the cluster strong.

“I think the impacts were larger than what the study showed,” he said.

For a copy of the report, visit the Northwest Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology website at

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