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Charting the Course A Regional Assessment of the Marine Science and Technology Sector in Southeastern New England

In 2018, UMass Dartmouth, the Southeastern Massachusetts Planning and Economic Development District and the Cape Cod Commission were awarded a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to facilitate the development of a Marine Science and Technology (MST) corridor through collaboration with chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, governmental agencies, and businesses in the Blue Economy.

The Southeastern New England (SENE) region has unique and historic strengths in the Blue Economy sectors and a relatively high concentration of activity in MST fields. A central goal of this initiative is to build on these strengths to create more well-paying jobs and increase the overall prosperity of the region and its communities.

The SENE region is composed of Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties in Massachusetts and all of Rhode Island. The sector consists of 115 companies and 21 public and non-profit organizations that are geographically distributed throughout the region, primarily along coastal waters, and are concentrated in and around Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, MA.

Even though a handful or large companies account for the majority of MST employment in the region, the sector is primarily made up of smaller firms. Nearly eight in ten (79%) of companies employ 50 workers or fewer and 46 percent employ ten or fewer workers.

The sector employs nearly 15,000 workers across 136 organizations. Looking only at private sector employment, MST sector employs more people in the region than other high-tech sectors, such as medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, and information technology and analytical instruments.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island have nearly the same number of MST companies and institutions (69 versus 67, respectively). However, Rhode Island is home to the region's largest employers (General Dynamics' Electric Boat, Raytheon, and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center), which employ 8,500 people between them. Rhode Island therefore accounts for a larger share of regional MST employment.

The largest employers on the Massachusetts side of the region include Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Marine Biological Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, and Kongsberg Hydroid. Together, these four companies employ 1,750 MST workers in Southeastern Massachusetts and on Cape Cod.

This region is a leader in federal undersea and defense research and contracts: MST firms and research institutions in the region received over $1 billion in federal contracts from the Department of Defense from 2014 to 2019. This research funding has translated into a high volume of patenting activity. From 2008-18, the region produced an average of 47 patents per year, with the largest share owned by the US Navy, followed by WHOI and Raython.

What do these MST companies do?

Historically, our understanding of the ocean's role in the economy was centered on traditional maritime sectors such as fishing, shipping, and boat building. Today, we are expanding how we think about the ocean's role in society to include new and emerging industries, such as aquaculture and offshore wind, as well as ocean ecosystem services, the value of which are not fully captured in economic markets.

The MST sector spans a wide range of industries, including but not limited to:

  • Advanced materials
  • Biotechnology
  • Civil engineering
  • Communications hardware
  • Information technology
  • Boat and ship building
  • Oceanography
  • Renewable energy
  • Robotics

The region's MST companies produce goods such as ocean instrumentation and sensors, mooring systems, marine hardware, cable assemblies and connectors, data loggers, and services such as systems engineering, software engineering, testing and evaluation, and environmental services, all uniquely adapted to the marine environment. In addition, companies in the region benefit from the presence of a network of suppliers that are accustomed to servicing the needs of marine-related industries.

Southeastern New England is home to four MST sub-clusters with unique identities and needs.

The MST sector is composed of four industry clusters that are vertically integrated by buyer-seller relationships and geographically concentrated around large procurement centers.

SENE has substantial scientific expertise in marine-related topics.

In addition to its network of degree-granting institutions and training providers - many of which have programs oriented to marine-related fields - the region is home to four research institutions that specialize in MST fields: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and the Marine Biological Laboratory (run by the University of Chicago). (Brown University is also located in the region, but only 1.4% of their faculty study marine-related topics.)

In total, in 2019 there were 413 full-time scientists and staff engineers at research institutions in the region that dedicated most of all of their time to marine-related topics. Physical oceanography is the most common field of study, but MST spans many fields and college departments, including geosciences, biochemistry and microbiology, electrical and computer engineering, ocean and coastal ecology, among other fields.

Among potential applications for this research, scientific instrumentation, ocean and coastal health, and sensing and communications are most commonly cited, although there are faculty working on a broad range of ocean-related topics including some emerging fields like biomaterials and marine-derived products, offshore renewable energy, and aquaculture.

Implications for Action

The analysis in Charting the Course was undertaken to support the development of a strategy to create more high-paying jobs and to increase the overall prosperity of SENE and its communities. Towards these ends, the following implications emerged:

"Charting the Course: A Regional Assessment of the Marine Science and Technology Sector in Southeastern New England" is available online.