Our ports are an integral part of the nation's intermodal transportation system as well as our national economy. Over 95 percent of the cargo that enters the United States is shipped. There are over 360 ports in the country that help with this. Ports not only have an effect on the nation's economy but also on local and regional economies.
Ports are the focus of this Ports Primer. However, many of the considerations that apply to ports can also be applied to large intermodal freight facilities which aren't near waterways, and are sometimes called "inland ports". While the Ports Primer is focused on port-related goods movements, there are many other issues, such as idling ships, that can also be applied to port functions.
The National Economy
American ports provide gateways to domestic and international trade. The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) reports that U.S. ports handle more than 99 percent of their overseas cargo by volume, and 65 percent by value.4 AAPA is a trade organization representing public port authorities throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. These figures are important, as international trade represents nearly 30% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, (GDP), To meet growing consumer demands, more ships visit U.S. port cities than ever before.
Port-Related and Port-Related Employment
Two people are shown in a photograph at a port.
Many communities see ports as a major source of local jobs. Ports not only provide employment but also help to support related sectors like rail and trucking. According to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), deepwater ports in the U.S. provided 541,946 jobs in 2014. This average salary was $54,273. Additionally, port activity created over 23 million jobs through related sectors and their overall economic impact on the surrounding areas.
Major Shipping Commodities
These are some of the most popular commodities that were shipped through U.S. port facilities:
- Crude petroleum and petroleum products (such as gasoline, aviation fuel, or natural gas)
- Chemicals and related products (including inorganic fertilizers)
- Food and farm products include wheat, wheat flour, corn and soybeans, rice, and cotton.
- Forest products: lumber, wood chips
- Iron and Steel
- Soil, sand, gravel, rock, stone
Other commodities are also shipped through the biggest ports USA:
- Automobiles, auto parts, and machinery
- Clothing, shoes, electronics, and toys
Ports deal with a variety of commodities. Some ports are focused on a single type of commodity while others have a wider range.
Intermodal Transportation System
A graphic showing how goods are connected to consumers by highways and railroads, air transport, air transit, marine highways, and other means.
The Intermodal Transportation System connects consumers to goods.
Ports act as transportation hubs, facilitating goods movement to local businesses and international markets. The figure at right shows that ports can connect goods with consumers using our highway system and railroads as well as air transit and domestic maritime highways (water transportation routes). These ports include intercoastal and inland seaports that enable the movement of goods between local communities and seaports. Intermodal Transportation refers to the movement of cargo among different modes of transport.
Ports will continue to grow trade as they consider expanding their internal capacities by improving efficiency and investing in infrastructure to support larger ships. Ports can also work with metropolitan planning organizations, state and federal Departments of Transportation, as well as other agencies, to increase transportation capacity beyond the port. This will help to avoid bottlenecks that may be caused by restrictions from other modes of transportation.
National Defense and Emergency Preparedness
Ports are important for national defense and economic development. U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), has named fifteen of our commercial maritime ports Strategic Seaports. (See the map to the right). These ports are able to help support military deployments.
Strategic Seaports of America
They have large loading areas and can load non-containerized cargo. These ports can also support emergency relief activities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency for natural catastrophes.
During military surge operations, the DOD is especially dependent on Strategic Seaports. These ports were used to load combat aircraft and vehicles during Operation Iraqi Freedom. These operations require that Strategic Seaports have adequate rail infrastructure, substantial staging areas for military goods, and workers capable of handling non-containerized equipment. Port staging areas and rail capacities to support military operations could be limited as we see more commercial container shipping at our commercial seaports.
It is important to ensure security at ports. Because so much cargo travel passes through ports, it is crucial that security measures are in place to properly monitor and protect them while still allowing for efficient goods flow. It can be complicated to divide responsibility and oversee port security. In October 2005, President George W. Bush approved the National Strategy for Maritime Security. This strategy outlines plans for preparedness, protection, recovery, and response to man-made or natural hazards that may pose security risks at our ports.