For a quick read of the U.S. economy's health, forget all those indexes coming out of Washington. All you really need is a report on the volumes of limestone and iron ore moving on the Great Lakes. That bit of wisdom comes straight from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD). "The Great Lakes traffic gives us a reliable measure of the strength of the U.S. economy," says Acting Maritime Administrator John Jamian. "The more Americans manufacture, the more they consume, the more goods will flow on the Great Lakes."
If MARAD's right, we can look forward to smooth sailing ahead. U.S. Great Lakes carriers expect marine cargo volumes to grow over the next five years, according to a recent report, Great Lakes Operators 2005. That report, which summarizes the findings of a MARAD survey, notes that carriers are optimistic that their core business—bulk shipments of iron ore, coal, limestone, cement, and manufacturing and construction materials—will hold steady. They also express high hopes for new business in the form of iron ore briquettes, plastic pellets and scrubbing stone. Several carriers are even planning to invest in new vessels over the next five years.
But not all the news is good. The report also reveals serious concerns about infrastructure. Survey respondents make particular mention of insufficient harbor water depth at ports and a critical need for dredging and lock maintenance.
The findings, part of the MARAD Industry Survey Series, represent survey responses from U.S. carriers who accounted for 93 percent of Great Lakes domestic traffic in 2004. The complete report is available on MARAD's Web site, www.marad.dot.gov/marad_statistics.