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Saint Lawrence Seaway Administrator Betty Sutton (center) meets with SIU of Canada Secretary-Treasurer Catina Sicoli (left) and MTD Eastern Area Executive Board Member Jim Given.

Saint Lawrence Seaway Administrator Betty Sutton (center) meets with SIU of Canada Secretary-Treasurer Catina Sicoli (left) and MTD Eastern Area Executive Board Member Jim Given.

Before extolling the importance of the Great Lakes to the U.S., Canadian and global economies, Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Administrator Betty Sutton declared her roots to the labor movement.

“Before I was a member of Congress from northeast Ohio, I was the daughter of Boilermaker,” she told the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO Executive Board. “I was the sister of an Ohio Steelworker, the sister of a teacher, the wife of a union leader and firefighter and the aunt of a United Food and Commercial Worker, and I was a union-side labor lawyer. That’s who I am.”

As the administrator, Sutton is now closer than ever to the issues that the maritime community faces on a daily basis. In a room full of maritime labor and industry leaders, she was quick to welcome a group in particular when she spoke on February 18: “It’s good to see some of our (vessel) operators here today, because industry is a big part of the maritime family, and we’re in this together.”

That theme of togetherness would carry on throughout her speech. “My connection to the AFL-CIO and the affiliates of the MTD is longstanding,” Sutton said. “It won’t surprise you that, as the Seaway Administrator, I remain very appreciative of all the work that you and your members do, and the contributions that you make to the vitality of maritime commerce in our nation.”

Sutton relayed her hope that the maritime industry could receive more widespread recognition for their actions. “Most people don’t think about how things move through our transportation system, how that bowl of cereal ends up on their breakfast table, or how that salt ends up on the roadways,” she said. “Now, coming from Ohio, we’ve seen some salt. But they sure would miss it if it wasn’t there, and chances are that salt came on a ship through the Great Lakes.”

The former congresswoman also highlighted the economic value of the maritime industry. “If you look more broadly at the impact of our nation’s coastal seaports, since 2007 the total number of jobs supported by cargo moving via the nation’s coastal seaports increased from 13.3 million jobs to 23.1 million jobs,” she said. “The total economic value of the nation’s coastal ports increased from $3.2 trillion in 2007 to $4.6 trillion in 2014. That is significant.”

But the economic impact of maritime trade is not just felt in coastal states with bustling seaports. As Sutton said, “Every state in the United States depends on maritime trade, and the growth in port activity requires strong connections to our inland markets… The maritime cycle supports jobs from many different industries and modes [of transportation] throughout the nation, not just in the port areas. So maritime is a critical economic driver, and it’s worth noting that marine shipping is the most environmentally efficient mode of transportation. Maritime can move cargo cheaper, greener and faster.”

“At the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, we’re working to focus attention, certainly on increasing maritime through the Great Lakes and through the Seaway, but also at increasing maritime in general,” she noted, explaining the economic and infrastructure importance of the Seaway. “The Great Lakes Seaway System extends from the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence in the Atlantic to the twin ports of Duluth and Superior – over 2,300 miles. Just to give you an idea of how complicated the governance can be in a system like this, a vessel transiting the Seaway crosses the international border 27 times, making bi-national cooperation an imperative. And we work very hard with our Canadian counterparts to make sure that the transit experience is seamless for our users.”

Sutton was also quick to point out the relative size and importance of trade along the Great Lakes. “If you took the water in the Great Lakes and spread it over the continental United States, it would cover the U.S. in nine-and-a-half feet of water… The lakes are a coast, the fourth sea coast as sometimes they’re referred to, and we need to get the word out. The Great Lakes region also represents the third largest economy in the world. If the eight Great Lakes states and the two Canadian provinces were a country, we would be the third largest economy, behind the U.S. and China.”

She concluded by advocating for everyone to take a public, visible stand for maritime. “Your commitment to keeping this industry strong is what drives all of those economic impacts that I mentioned earlier,” she said. “I want to extend my personal thanks to all of you, who have done so much to elevate the maritime industry…. We must all be ambassadors for maritime. Maritime matters. You matter, and your members matter.”