New Report on U.S. Ocean and Great Lakes Economy Shows Growth

Ocean and Great Lakes economy is an important piece of the total U.S. economy.

a collage of imagery representing the coastal economy

Ocean-sized Economy

The ocean economy includes businesses dependent on ocean and Great Lakes natural resources. This essential segment of the U.S. economy also employed more than 3 million people—more than crop production, telecommunication and building construction combined—with over two thirds of those employees in the tourism and recreation sector.

The nation's oceans and Great Lakes continue to fuel economic growth across the U.S. The latest economic figures available are from 2014 and show inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) from the ocean economy (businesses dependent on these natural resources) grew 15.6 percent from the pre-recession levels of 2007, outpacing the U.S. economy as a whole, which grew at 5.8 percent.

This essential segment of the U.S. economy also employed more than 3 million people—more than crop production, telecommunication, and building construction combined—with over two thirds of those employees in the tourism and recreation sector.

These findings are in a new report, titled U.S. Ocean and Great Lakes Economy, 2014, by the NOAA Office for Coastal Management. The report looks at 2005-2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Census Bureau.

The ocean and Great Lakes economy is comprised of six job sectors dependent on natural resources:  marine construction; marine transportation; offshore mineral extraction; ship and boat building; and tourism and recreation. These sectors created 75,000 new jobs, growing by 2.5 percent during the reporting period as compared to overall U.S. economic growth of 2.0 percent. In 2014 alone, the ocean and Great Lakes supported:

  • 149,000 business establishments
  • 3.1 million employees
  • $123 billion in total wages
  • $352 billion in gross domestic product

The report also shines a light on the deep connections individual sectors have to the Great Lakes and marine resources. Some industry highlights from the report:

  • Tourism and recreation was the largest sector in terms of ocean economy employment, providing over 2 million jobs.
  • Offshore mineral extraction sector led the ocean economy in wages and GDP, paying out over $25 billion in wages, and contributing $152 billion in goods and services.
  • Four sectors paid an average wage per employee above the national average of $51,000—marine construction ($69,000), ship and boat building ($66,000), marine transportation ($72,000), and offshore mineral extraction ($146,000).

NOAA provides a host of economic data from its primary data delivery website, the Digital Coast. Time-series economic data is available for counties, states, regions, and the nation in a wide variety of formats. These data provide nationally consistent information to understand and manage the diverse economic demands placed on our ocean and Great Lakes.