From 2005 to 2012, the number of boats built and sold in the United States fell by half, not a good sign for the Ocean State’s maritime industry.
But thanks to a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit and data-driven decision-making, many Rhode Island shipbuilders and related companies are enjoying strong sales, some strong enough to put them in a position to hire new workers or bring some of the work they had moved offshore back to U.S. locales.
Expertise gained in modern, composite-based shipbuilding is readily transferred to other industries, including renewable energy (wind-turbine molds and blades), defense (lightweight ship and aerospace components) and high-tech (component manufacturing), among others. All it takes is the business acumen to recognize the opportunity and take advantage of it.
But even in the shipbuilding industry itself, the products of innovative processes that were developed here, then moved overseas with the promise of lower manufacturing costs, are now being brought back. It seems that the innovations are of such high value that a commodity approach to them is not necessarily the best one.
The maritime industry will never be what it once was here, but what it is becoming is not such a bad thing. •