A 'BlueTech' Future: Understanding California's Maritime Opportunities
By M. DANIEL DECILLIS
| November 4, 2015
The importance of high-tech innovation to California's economy has long been understood and
appreciated. Despite this fact, the current and potential impact of maritime technology innovation
has been little studied, and California should focus more on this dynamic growth sector in years to
come, according to The Maritime Alliance.
"The coastal and ocean economies already comprised $6.6 trillion of the national GDP based on
2011 numbers," said Michael Jones, President of The Maritime Alliance, who spoke at the October 2015
CCST Council Meeting. "Understanding the size of the US 'Blue Economy' is critical if California is
to take advantage of opportunities for growth in maritime related industries."
The term "BlueTech" is becoming shorthand for the community of inventors and companies big and
small involved in maritime (ocean and water-related) technology industries. It encompasses, among
other things, aquaculture; water treatment; ocean energy production (including tidal, wave, and wind
generation); biomedicines from the seas; maritime robotics, and even real estate (floating
infrastructures such as oil and gas drilling platforms and future uses like floating ports,
desalination and power plants).
The non-profit The Maritime Alliance (TMA), which is the cluster organizer for the San Diego
maritime technology community, began in 2007 and is mapping, studying, and promoting the San Diego
"BlueTech Cluster". TMA also has an active outreach program to help foster the growth of BlueTech
clusters nationally and internationally.
"Traditional classification of industries leads policymakers to underestimate the importance of
the Blue Economy," said Jones. "As an example, U.S. government statistics estimate the San Diego
Blue Economy to be approximately $1.8 billion (net of maritime tourism), but a broader assessment by
TMA indicated the figure is closer to $14 billion annually. Traditional NAICS codes [North American
Industry Classification System] don't begin to properly identify BlueTech industries."
San Diego, however, is a region which does seem to appreciate the value of BlueTech. It is
already the largest BlueTech cluster in the United States . It also is home to the last major
shipbuilding center on the West Coast. With nearly 19,000 jobs and annual revenue of over $6
billion, maritime technology industries are a fast growing sector of the region's larger Blue
Economy with 46,000 jobs and $14 billion in annual direct revenue.
In early 2015, the City, County, and Port of San Diego each unanimously adopted a "BlueTech
Vision" resolutionfor the region. In November 2015, TMA will host five events focusing on BlueTech,
including the 7th annual BlueTech & Blue Economy Summit and Tech Expo, which will include
participants from BlueTech clusters in Canada, France, Ireland, the U.K. and the US.
TMA's Mission is to "Promote sustainable, science-based ocean and water industries." It is trying
to do that in the San Diego area through a combination of collaboration and planning.
"Effective Marine Spatial Planning could increase the gross product of ocean and water-related
industries in San Diego dramatically - billions of dollars annually - by establishing needed rules &
regulations and pre-approving appropriate sites that would encourage investment and industry
growth," said a 2014 report prepared for TMA by a group of graduate students at the School of Global
Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego (formerly the Graduate School of
International Relations and Pacific Studies).
The key to encouraging BlueTech clusters is in the recognition of opportunity and the ability to
effectively collaborate across three sectors - education/research; government & policy
makers/influencers; and industry, according to Jones.
"There are numerous factors BlueTech clusters need to address, ranging from the development of
marine engineering and maritime technical training to the ability to affordably rent near the
water," said Jones. "Creating an effective regional and national Blue Voice for BlueTech is critical
for promoting sustainable, science-based ocean industries with good paying Blue Jobs."