Murkowski, Cantwell Spearhead Legislation to Strengthen Blue Economy and Support Coastal Communities

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Ocean Regional Opportunity and Innovation Act of 2022 (Ocean ROI Act of 2022), which would direct the Secretary of Commerce to establish “Ocean Innovation Clusters” (ocean clusters) to strengthen the coastal communities and blue economy of the nation. Senator Murkowski is a strong supporter of Ocean Clusters, including the Alaska Ocean Cluster which serves as a hub for private, public, and academic stakeholders to collaborate on opportunities to promote and enhance the maritime industry. 

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) are original cosponsors of the legislation.

For text of the bill, click here.

“The U.S. is home to a number of burgeoning ocean clusters, including the Alaska Ocean Cluster, which have emerged as critical facilitators of blue economy development. It’s time for the U.S. to catch up with our Arctic friends in Iceland and Norway who have long brought together public, private, and academic stakeholders to create sustainable value in the maritime industry through existing and novel opportunities. Clusters offer members physical workspaces—often including some sort of project incubation space—as well as networking, funding and investment opportunities. By boosting our existing clusters and creating new ones where they don’t exist, we are paving the way for some of Alaska’s most innovative minds to further advance Alaska’s blue economy—a significant and direct investment in our state,” said Senator Murkowski.

“From protecting orcas from vessel noise, to transitioning to a carbon free future for our ports and maritime industry, Washington’s ocean cluster, called Maritime Blue, is working hard to solve complex challenges facing our economy. This bill would build on their success by creating a new grant program to fund ocean innovation clusters and grow Washington’s 30 billion dollar maritime economy,” said Senator Cantwell.

Specifically, the Ocean ROI Act of 2021 would require the Secretary of Commerce, acting through the administrator of the U.S. Economic Development Agency, and in consultation with the administrator of NOAA, to designate at least one ocean cluster in each of the five domestic NOAA Fisheries regions and the Great Lakes region. This would ensure that at least one cluster is designated in Alaska. The bill would also create grants for cluster operation and administration and one-time capital investments for physical infrastructure.

“We are grateful Senator Murkowski recognizes ocean clusters as a framework to advance innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic development. Her leadership is invaluable as we seek to tackle local, national, and global maritime issues,” said Garrett Evridge, Managing Director of the Alaska Ocean Cluster. “The timing couldn't be better to formalize a national cluster network. This legislation will help us respond to challenges while advancing a modern and resilient ocean sector.”

“The Alaska Ocean Cluster has been an incredible resource as we've aligned our technology with customer needs in the state. There is a huge opportunity for ocean clusters to help accelerate startups focused on maritime solutions,” said Kortney Opshaug, CEO and founder of Blue Ocean Gear.  

“Our ability to provide value and solutions to communities and companies in the Arctic has been strengthened by the advice, coaching, and connections offered by the Alaska Ocean Cluster,” said Leslie Canavera, CEO and co-founder of PolArctic, “Expansion of ocean innovation clusters nationally will facilitate coordination among companies, tribes, municipalities and other stakeholders to realize the potential of the blue economy.”

Background: On June 8, 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released the first official Marine Economy Satellite Account statistics, which demonstrated that the ocean economy accounted for 1.9 percent, or $397 billion, of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2019. BEA also found that the growth of the ocean economy outpaced that of the economy as a whole in 2019. Under the current growth rate, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development projected that the global ocean economy would double its 2010 contribution to world gross value added by 2030, from $1.5 to $3 trillion.