Leading in the maritime sector: Washington launches Maritime Blue 2050 initiative

Program aims to increase technology, reduce pollution, update workforce training

Ocean health and new technologies will play major roles in the future of the maritime industry, and state leaders want Washington’s $37.8 billion maritime sector and its nearly 70,000 employees to help lead the way.

Gov. Jay Inslee visited Seattle today to help launch the Washington Maritime Blue 2050 initiative, the first initiative of its kind in the United States to bolster innovations in the maritime sector that create living-wage jobs, protect the environment and ensure sustainability for the industry. Imagine ships and passenger ferries powered by electricity, zero-carbon-emission port terminals, more investments in research and development, and increased workforce training.

Studies predict that in coming decades, scientific and technological advances will play a crucial role in addressing ocean-related environmental challenges and ocean-based economic activities. Every segment of the state’s maritime sector will face changes, prompting leaders in government, research, businesses and academic communities to get involved in the initiative.

Washington’s maritime sector includes commercial fishing and seafood, recreational boating and sport fishing; shipping and cargo handling; shipbuilding, repair and maintenance; passenger ferries; military and defense; marine technologies; and maritime support businesses.

The initiative was made possible by a $500,000 grant to the Washington State Department of Commerce from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies program.

A key part of the initiative will involve training maritime workers for the science- and tech-heavy jobs of tomorrow. This is especially important as the industry faces a critical “age wave” in its workforce, with significant numbers of workers getting ready to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, during the Washington Maritime Blue 2050 initiative’s kickoff at the Bell Harbor Conference Center in Seattle. (Governor’s Office photo)

“Maritime activity has long been a pillar of our state’s economy, and we are uniquely positioned to lead the country in maritime innovation,” Inslee said. “This initiative allows us to show the nation that we can adopt new management practices and clean technologies while creating living-wage jobs for Washingtonians.”

Gov. Jay Inslee with Maritime Innovation Advisory Council co-chairs, from left, Vigor CEO Frank Foti, state Rep. Gael Tarleton, and Dennis McLerran, former Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 administrator. (Governor’s Office photo)

Officials from the Washington State Department of Commerce, the Maritime Innovation Advisory Council and Norwegian based DNV-GL — a global maritime firm that is leading in maritime innovation — joined Inslee for today’s event. The advisory council will develop a comprehensive vision and strategic plan for the initiative.

Washington Maritime Blue 2050 will be led by the new, governor-appointed Maritime Innovation Advisory Council. The council is co-chaired by state Rep. Gael Tarleton, Vigor CEO Frank Foti, and Dennis McLerran, former Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 administrator and member of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council.

Innovation, sustainability, jobs

With the grant, the Maritime Blue initiative can get started on its main objectives, which are to:

  • Set the course for sustainable maritime industry innovation. The strategy aims to ensure that Washington is home to the most sustainable maritime industry by 2050, aligned with Inslee’s plans for deep de-carbonization, innovation and workforce development.
  • Support strong blue technology cluster coordination, forming strategic alliances, growth in trade, and increased jobs.
  • Support development of the Washington Maritime Innovation Center and Incubator at the Port of Seattle and the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab.

The strategy will include economic development through the state’s Clean Energy Fund, as well as new curriculum and program development to increase workers’ advanced manufacturing skills. Additional goals include regulatory streamlining for the sector and strengthening employee recruitment.

Commerce was one of 42 organizations from a pool of 217 applicants to receive a RIS grant. The $500,000 will be matched in-kind by the Port of Seattle, which is providing space for the Washington Maritime Innovation Center, and by the University of Washington Applied Physics Lab, which will provide staff time.

Event keynote speaker David Walker, group chief development officer of the Norway-based consulting firm DNV-GL, addressed global trends in maritime innovation.

“Across the globe, maritime clusters are shaping developments that will set the future direction for a sustainable industry. The movement to de-carbonization and clean technology innovation is upon us, environmentally friendly fuels and electric propulsion are a reality, and digitalization is transforming the way we operate,” Walker said. “Rather than view technology and innovation as simply tools to address the challenges we face in the maritime industry, we must instead work together to embrace the opportunities they offer for a sustainable and prosperous society.”

Gov. Jay Inslee celebrates the new Chimacum state ferry September 2016 at Vigor’s Harbor island Shipyard with a Vigor employee Bettye Stubblefield. (Governor’s Office photo)