What's the economic impact of our port?

Alex Doty • May 3, 2018 at 1:00 PM

A new study aims to identify the impact Michigan’s Great Lakes harbors have on the economy.

The Michigan Port Collaborative will conduct a nine-day tour of port and harbor communities throughout the state, including Grand Haven, beginning May 10. The tour launches the first “full spectrum” economic impact study of ports ever conducted in the state.

Marci Cisneros, Grand Haven Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director and treasurer of the Michigan Port Collaborative, said Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg have a very active port, which is designated for cargo, commercial and recreational uses.

“We are fortunate to have the Army Corps of Engineers located here,” she said. “We have a long maritime history with the United States Coast Guard at the forefront. We have one of the most chartered fishing ports on Lake Michigan. We have an active cargo fleet moving tons of aggregate annually. We have one of the busiest state parks, lighthouses, pier and boardwalk.

“I could go on, but my point is we know a lot about our port,” she continued, “but having an up-to-date, full-spectrum economic impact study will help when it comes to proving our port’s value.”

The study will provide an in-depth look into all aspects of port activity and provide an economic impact study based on the information received while visiting, touring and researching the port, Cisneros said.

“We are looking forward to working with the City of Grand Haven and Chamber of Commerce on this study,” she added. “All three organizations will be meeting with the Michigan Port Collaborative president, Felicia Fairchild, and Institute for Service Research director Dr. (Vincent) Magnini on the afternoon of May 11.”

The Michigan Port Collaborative is a statewide, non-profit organization and is the recipient of a recent matching-funds grant to help make the study affordable for participating ports. The collaborative is the lead organization working in coordination with Magnini and his institute, which will be conducting the study.

Cisneros noted that there are some unique elements to the upcoming research.

“Most economic impact studies are often conducted for individual ports and generally not considered full spectrum,” she explained. “This study will include partner ports all across our great state. Once completed, I believe this report will give us insight as to the level of economic value our port plays in our community as well as adjacent communities.”

Cisneros also noted a new component to be considered with the study: tourism.

“This is an important — but often missed — component to understanding the economic impact of active ports and destination communities like ours,” she said. “This study will look at those direct and indirect connections in an effort to help us better understand the value of our port.”

Collaborative officials say they believe the results of the new study will verify that the economic value of Michigan ports is far greater than previously thought.

“We will use the results of this study to educate our legislators and state officials regarding our monetary value as port communities,” collaborative Vice Chairman Don Gilmet said.

When Great Lakes water levels dropped drastically in 2009, the concerns regarding the economic viability of many Michigan ports began to wane at the state and federal levels, according to collaborative officials. The dredging and infrastructure challenges caused by low water levels created a trend in thinking that harbors are an economic liability.

“We represent the ports of Michigan and we want to change that thinking,” Fairchild said. “Michigan harbors are the front doors to our communities.”

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