The University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Donahue Institute

2005 Publication Archive

The Marine Science and Technology Industry in New England

The $4.8 billion marine science industry of New England is a formidable economic engine that has the potential to prosper through investments in homeland security, oceanographic and atmospheric warning systems, allied navies, and environmental monitoring, but the industry is in danger of running aground in the global competition for investment unless it can find more highly skilled workers and research support, according to a study released today by the UMass Donahue Institute.

According to the study, the marine science industry has grown through technology and sophistication into a robust economic cluster that stretches across five coastal New England states with 481 marine science firms employing nearly 40,000 people. This includes 178 firms concentrated in southeastern Massachusetts, which has traditionally struggled to attract technology firms, and Rhode Island.

However, a survey of marine science executives, scholars and policy makers included in the study, indicates that the lack of a highly skilled labor force is "of great concern" as the industry seeks to win the competition for federal and private sector investments in marine technology. Industry leaders said the most important assistance that policy-makers could provide to promote growth of the marine science sector is encouragement of strategic research partnerships and research funding.

"Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod have never benefited from the state's high technology boom to any significant degree," said Dr. Clyde Barrow, Director of the UMass Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis, who co-authored the study with Dr. David Terkla of UMass Boston Economics Department and the Department of Environmental, Earth, and Ocean Sciences, and Rebecca Loveland of the Donahue Institute. "The marine science and technology industry offers one of the best opportunities for these regions to find a niche in the state's high technology sector and to build a competitive position in an emerging world market."

"New England's culture and economy have been connected to the ocean for centuries, but without renewed vigilance, this region could lose ground to our competitors around the country and around the globe,'' said Dr. Terkla.

Among the findings of the study:

  • Massachusetts' marine science and technology sector is particularly well-positioned to prosper because it is already centered on emerging markets in marine instrumentation, research and services rather than shipbuilding.
  • Homeland security priorities have been shifting from deep water submarine- and destroyer-based defense operations to shallow water coastal defense operations. This shift in emphasis benefits manufacturers of marine instruments, electronics and underwater vehicles.
  • Global markets offer expanding opportunities for Massachusetts firms. A variety of new foreign navies continue to be added to the list of authorized purchasers for U.S. defense related products.
  • A large number of developing countries in Asia and Latin America view marine/ocean resources as assets to be managed rather than exploited. These countries can now afford to pursue environmentally conscious policies requiring a wide range of marine science and technology products and services.
  • Recent efforts to improve international oceanographic and atmospheric monitoring systems (for example, tsunami and typhoon warning systems) also benefit Massachusetts firms in competition with Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The survey of marine industry executives, scholars and policymakers found the following:

  • 74% of employers surveyed reported "lack of labor with required skills'' to be a "great concern."
  • 73% of employers said high "product costs" are a "great concern"
  • 59% of employers said "access to capital" is a "great concern
  • 45% of employers reported a need for grants to support proof of concept research.
  • 33% employers reported a need for stronger strategic alliances to secure funds for large scale research, development, and demonstration projects. 
  • 29% of employers reported a need for a center of product development, testing, and demonstration.

The study was sponsored by the UMass President's Office Science and Technology Fund, UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth, SouthCoast Development Partnership, Marine and Oceanographic Technology Network, Cape Cod Economic Development Council of Barnstable County, Massachusetts Seaport Advisory Council, UMass Dartmouth Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center, and the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment.

By: Clyde Barrow, Rebecca Loveland, David Terkla


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