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-Big Sur,CA.

California and the Sea

California has always been influenced by the sea. Unlike other western states, California was founded from the sea inward, first by the Spanish and then by the Americans. California retains close links to the Pacific and by utilizing its resources, was the fifth largest industrial economy in 2000.3 Its connections to the ocean are evidenced by the economic activity of thousands of businesses, its burgeoning ports, and in the behavior of millions of people who
flock to the shore.

Besides attracting millions of people, California is a fascinating place to examine and an important place to understand. California’s coast has unique physical qualities. Geographically and geologically, California’s coast is a mixture of broad sand beaches, enormous estuaries turned ports, and rocky cliff formations that make it conducive to differing economies and lifestyles. The varied climate along its coast contributes to differing patterns of living.

HuntingtonBeachParty– Huntington Beach, Calif.

Demographically, it is heavily urban in the Bay area and Southern Coastal areas, mixed rural and semi-urban along the Central Coast, and mostly rural along the Northern coast. In the past, it has been difficult to fully appreciate the magnitude of the connections to the ocean. Now, it is possible to measure the economic and demographic
relationships as they change over time throughout the state as a whole, and in the different coastal regions of California.

Between 1990 and 2000, California’s population grew from 29.8 million to approximately 33.9 million, an estimated annual growth rate of 13.7%. Seventy-seven percent of the population lives in or near the coast, and a faster growing population inhabits the inland areas immediately adjacent to the coast. Another important indicator of change, employment, is growing faster along the coast than inland, indicating a strong growth in the economy along the shore.

Catalina Island– Catalina Island, CA.

California holds a prominent political leadership position with respect to coastal zone and ocean management. For many years it has initiated innovative programs and policies to meet the challenges of balancing protection of it resources and development for its growing population and economy. As the first state to pass coastal management legislation in 1976, it continues as a model for other states by its responses to coastal issues. California’s growing
population and historic popularity as a tourist destination have brought it both economic wealth and the accompanying challenges of enormous pressure on all of its natural resources, particularly those along its more populated coastal areas.

Beaches are the top destination for its tourists and one of California’s greatest assets. Its beaches stretch the length of the state, and are sought particularly in Southern California due to its warmer climate. For this study the value of beaches and coastal areas has been calculated to demonstrate their importance to the California economy, and the significance of maintaining both. Protecting the beaches from pollution is only part of the challenge; they also are eroding because California, like other places, has damned up most of its coastal watersheds, thus preventing the fresh-running waters carrying essential nourishing sediments to the coast. As a result, California conducts some artificial beach nourishment to ensure its revenues from tourism continue, and to protect this unique and desirable asset.

Californians can boast a long list of challenges and activities that dominate the California coastal landscape. These activities require monitoring and management to ensure that the shores of California can sustain the pressures and deliver the amenities and goods the public seeks. To date, however, there has been little information about the value of the coast and ocean to the state of California, and even less information about how these values have changed over time. Likewise, there continues to be little understanding of the state’s economic dependence on these natural resources. Uncovering California’s relationships to the ocean and its economy is the purpose of this report.

ocean watchLong before the nation’s reshoring phenomenon took hold, there was an actual shoreline doing its part for the US economy. A new report says it’s still holding its own.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) of the CCenter for the Blue Economy, based at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, this week released its State of the US Ocean and Coastal Economies 2014 report, a follow-up to its initial report five years ago.

The geography of America’s coasts is enormously varied, and reflecting this, coastal states exhibit great variety in the size and role of their coastal economies. Three states (Rhode Island, Delaware, and Hawaii) are entirely comprised of shore adjacent counties, though they are small, ranking 18th, 17th, and 20th respectively in shore-adjacent county employment. At the other extreme are the large states with large urban areas. California is the largest state in overall employment as well as the largest in employment in shore-adjacent counties. New York and Florida are also at the top of employment and near the top of the proportion of state employment in shore-adjacent economies.

The report encompasses shoreline counties in Great Lakes states as well as ocean states. As defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), that means 446 counties in 30 states. In 2012, the coastal zone counties accounted for 51 percent of employment in coastal states; 42 percent of total national employment; 57 percent of GDP in coastal states; and 48 percent of national GDP.

The importance of the coastal economy is reinforced by Site Selection’s tracking of new private-sector facility investments last year, including the Eastern Seaboard and the energy-rich Gulf Coast states. As published in our traditional Governor’s Cup rankings this month, nine of the top 10 states were shoreline states. In the new per-capita category, six of the top 10 had shoreline. However, among the top 10 metro areas for projects across three separate population categories, only six of the 30 areas were shoreline communities.

In addition to measuring economic activity in the more general coastal economy, the NOEP report examined employment, wages, and output from six sectors and 21 industries whose goods and services derive in one way or another from the oceans and Great Lakes. The six sectors are marine-related construction, living resources (fisheries, seafood processing), minerals (oil and gas activity), ship and boat building, tourism and recreation, and transportation (including warehousing, deep-sea freight, passenger transport and the recently booming sub-category of search and navigation equipment).

Laguna Beach, CA– Laguna Beach, CA

According to the NOEP report, “four of the five largest states in terms of ocean economy employment are also the four largest states in terms of total employment. These are Texas, California, Florida, and New York. California is the only state ranked in the top five states by employment for five of the six ocean economy sectors and also in the top five in ocean economy overall. The state of Washington ranks highly among states in living resources and ship & boat building because it is the center for the Northwest Pacific fisheries.”

“Between 2007 and 2012, coastal states lost 3.8 million jobs, accounting for 80.5 percent of national job losses, but contributed an additional $260 billion to GDP, reflecting the faster recovery in GDP and slower recovery in employment.”

Tourism and recreation is the largest employment sector in the ocean economy, comprising over 1.9 million jobs or 70 percent of all marine-related employment.

CAgdpThe other sectors account for 65 percent of contribution to GDP but only 30 percent of employment. Minerals had the most pronounced difference, with an ocean economy GDP contribution of 33 percent but an ocean economy employment share of just 5 percent. Its average employee contribution to GDP in 2010 was $606,000, while the average tourism and recreation employee contributed $46,000 to GDP.

“From 2005 to 2010, 41,000 jobs were added to the ocean economy, but these new jobs were offset by 43,647 jobs lost in the marine construction, ship & boat building, transportation and living resources sectors,” says the report. “Overall employment over this period grew only 1.5 percent, and the tourism & recreation sector accounted for 85 percent of the new jobs.”

During that same period, the ocean economy as a whole grew by $42.4 billion, with transportation accounting for 68 percent of that growth.

Shoreline Knowledge

GlobalTerminals2– Moving freight by ship still accounts for a huge share of the US coastal economy.

The report notes that while the counties along America’s ocean and Great Lakes comprise only 18 percent of the land area of the United States, they harbor 37 percent of US employment and 42 percent of total GDP.

“At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the third largest country in the world,” says the report. “But the waters contained within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] cover an additional 1.4 million square miles, making the U.S. the country with the largest ocean area in the world, and this does not include the U.S. share of the Great Lakes.”


This table from the NOEP report shows state growth in employment and in regional GDP from 2007-2012.

While that area encompasses pristine stretches of scenery and quaint small towns, the report is quick to note that it’s the shoreline’s cities that carry the bulk of the economic load. More than eight in 10 residents of coastal states live in a Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Here are some report highlights from 2010 statistics related to the ocean economy, and to the broader coastal economy:

Ocean Economy

  • In terms of states, the ocean economy would be the 25th largest state by employment and the 20th largest state by GDP, the same size as Colorado.
  • In terms of metropolitan areas, the ocean would be the 39th largest metropolitan area by employment, about the same size as Atlanta, and the 17th largest metropolitan area by GDP in the United States, slightly smaller than San Diego.
  • In terms of industries, the ocean economy supports employment almost two and half times larger than other natural resource industries such as farming, mining, and forest harvesting, which together employed 1.15 million in 2010.

Coastal Economy

  • “The coastal economy is primarily an urban economy and the distribution of economic activity along the coasts is driven significantly by forces affecting urban regions, most notably the spread of population and economic activity away from the city centers in the pattern that has come to be known as urban sprawl.”
  • “The coastal economy had been the core of much of U.S. manufacturing in the past, but this has changed, and the coastal economy now produces primarily services.”
  • Although employment decreased in all coastal geographies between 2007 and 2012, GDP continued to grow, albeit at a lower rate than before the recession. “Only two states (Alaska and Texas) showed employment growth in all coastal regions between 2007 and 2012, driven primarily by the oil industry,” said the report. “Two states (Louisiana and New York) had employment growth in the coastal regions and state totals, with a decline in inland county employment for the period.”
  • “Between 2007 and 2012, 17 states (Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington) experienced GDP growth in all of the coastal regions. California and Georgia had GDP growth in shore-adjacent and coastal zone counties with declines for the state and inland GDP. Maine showed growth in its shore-adjacent counties only.”

TravelTourismDirectGDPRank2013In the 30 coastal states:

  • Population was 255.8 million (82 percent of the US)
  • Employment was over 107.3 million (82 percent of the US)
  • GDP was $13 trillion (83 percent of the US)

In the watershed counties of the coastal states:

  • Population was 162.3 million (52 percent of the US
  • Employment was 67 million (51 percent of the US)
  • GDP was $8.7 trillion (56 percent of the US)

In the shore-adjacent counties of the coastal states:

  • Population was 116.5 million people (37 percent of the US)
  • Employment was 48.8 million (37 percent of the US)
  • GDP was $6.6 trillion (42 percent of US GDP)

“This is where the real concentration of economic activity occurs,” notes the report. “With 18 percent of the land area, the shore-adjacent counties account for 37 percent of the US population and 42 percent of the national economic output.” Large-economy states including California, Florida, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, and Illinois have between 50 percent and 90 percent of their employment in shore-adjacent counties.

Travel & Tourism Remains Driver

CA 1The NOEP report says the most significant long-term trend in the ocean economy is the rise of tourism & recreation as its defining sector. And that’s without even counting marine passenger transportation (which is categorized under transportation rather than tourism). It lists several reasons, including the fact that, despite declines in real income, “domestic travel and recreation has still been affordable to most people, and the oceans and Great Lakes have been a center for US vacations and leisure since the nineteenth century. The concentration of major metropolitan areas in coastal areas also contributes to the growth in components of tourism & recreation related to business travel.”

NOEP says the growing importance of tourism & recreation in the ocean economy is also supported by studies in other countries. “In France, tourism is ‘by far the largest sector of the marine and coastal economy in terms of turnover and employment.’ The cruise ship industry in France is not only a major part of French ocean recreation, it is also a significant part of its ship building industry; a quarter of the large cruise ships built in 2005 were built in France.”

The importance of travel and tourism was reinforced by a separately released economic impact report from the World Travel and Tourism Council that recognized the United States as a leader globally. The direct contribution of travel and tourism to US GDP in 2013 was $450.2 billion (2.7 percent of GDP).

“This is forecast to rise by 3.5 percent to US$465.8 billion in 2014,” said the WTTC report. A separate report on business travel released in 2011 noted that the ROI for business travel in particular is 10:1 on a global basis— that is, one unit of incremental business travel spending produces incremental industry sales of 10 units. In the Americas, the average ROI was the highest in the world, at 12:1.

“The direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP is expected to grow by 3.7 percent [per annum] to US$671.5 billion (3 percent of GDP) by 2024,” said the newest WTTC report.



Data Series Back

Labor Force Data

Civilian Labor Force (1)

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19,026.2 19,043.1 19,039.6 19,035.8 19,004.6 (P) 18,993.6

Employment (1)

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17,812.8 17,847.1 17,859.9 17,871.7 17,883.4 (P) 17,898.8

Unemployment (1)

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1,213.4 1,196.0 1,179.7 1,164.0 1,121.2 (P) 1,094.7

Unemployment Rate (2)

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6.4 6.3 6.2 6.1 5.9 (P) 5.8

Nonfarm Wage and Salary Employment

Total Nonfarm (3)

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16,046.1 16,068.4 16,148.9 16,190.8 16,211.9 (P) 16,253.1

12-month % change

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2.9 3.0 3.2 3.0 2.9 (P) 2.9

Mining and Logging (3)

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30.0 29.3 29.0 28.6 28.5 (P) 28.8

12-month % change

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-4.2 -6.4 -7.3 -8.6 -9.8 (P) -7.4

Construction (3)

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718.4 717.9 721.2 723.7 727.2 (P) 734.8

12-month % change

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6.8 7.0 7.3 6.7 6.6 (P) 7.3

Manufacturing (3)

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1,275.3 1,273.5 1,277.1 1,269.0 1,268.9 (P) 1,268.8

12-month % change

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0.5 0.3 0.6 -0.2 -0.3 (P) -0.2

Trade, Transportation, and Utilities (3)

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2,939.4 2,946.7 2,955.0 2,963.3 2,965.6 (P) 2,965.9

12-month % change

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2.9 2.9 2.9 2.8 2.7 (P) 2.4

Information (3)

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468.7 467.3 472.3 474.2 479.3 (P) 477.4

12-month % change

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3.5 3.1 2.9 2.9 3.6 (P) 2.9

Financial Activities (3)

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791.7 795.0 798.6 797.7 794.2 (P) 795.8

12-month % change

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1.1 1.4 1.6 1.4 0.8 (P) 0.9

Professional & Business Services (3)

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2,548.9 2,567.9 2,592.0 2,585.5 2,585.6 (P) 2,601.5

12-month % change

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5.2 5.7 6.5 5.7 5.3 (P) 5.3

Education & Health Services (3)

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2,476.6 2,482.0 2,499.0 2,504.8 2,508.1 (P) 2,504.3

12-month % change

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3.0 3.2 3.1 2.9 2.7 (P) 3.0

Leisure & Hospitality (3)

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1,817.2 1,811.2 1,830.0 1,836.2 1,832.0 (P) 1,850.4

12-month % change

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3.7 3.1 4.0 4.1 4.0 (P) 4.7

Other Services (3)

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545.8 545.4 550.2 549.3 550.6 (P) 554.2

12-month % change

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1.4 1.1 1.6 1.0 1.0 (P) 1.3

Government (3)

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2,434.1 2,432.2 2,424.5 2,458.5 2,471.9 (P) 2,471.2

12-month % change

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1.2 1.1 0.8 1.7 1.9 (P) 1.5

(1) Number of persons, in thousands, seasonally adjusted.
(2) In percent, seasonally adjusted.
(3) Number of jobs, in thousands, seasonally adjusted.
(P) Preliminary

Data extracted on: December 02, 2015

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Note: More data series, including additional geographic areas, are available through the “Databases & Tables” tab at the top of this page.

California includes the following metropolitan areas for which an Economy At A Glance table is available:


Geographically based survey data available from BLS:

Employment & Unemployment

Prices & Living Conditions

Compensation & Working Conditions




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