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Business is booming in Boston’s industrial port

The port now has 9,000 jobs, up more than 20 percent since 2012. Massachusetts Port Authority

Land in the Seaport District is trading hands for sky-high prices, as swanky glass-paneled office and condo buildings spring up from old parking lots. But several blocks away, a less celebrated part of Boston is booming as well: the city’s working port.

The Massachusetts Port Authority on Thursday will release an analysis of the marine industrial economy that shows that from 2012 to 2018, the port’s annual impact nearly doubled to $8.2 billion from $4.6 billion. The number of jobs in the port’s three key areas of employment — cargo, cruise ships, and seafood processing — has grown more than 20 percent over that time, to roughly 9,000.


The numbers, in large part, reflect private-sector jobs. But Massport is the ringleader: The agency controls the Conley shipping terminal and the Flynn Cruiseport in South Boston, the Autoport in Charlestown, and South Boston properties that are home to seafood processors and other marine industrial operations.

The report, prepared by consultant Martin Associates, shows direct employment has grown in cargo by 18 percent since 2012, to 5,400 jobs. Local employment in the seafood industry, meanwhile, rose 45 percent, to 2,100 jobs. And the cruise industry employs about 1,100 people here, up 13 percent. Another 400 work in harbor cruise and marina jobs.

Records were set at the Conley and Flynn terminals last year, in terms of freight shipped through the port and passengers served, respectively.

“Our investments in the port of Boston are paying off,” said John Pranckevicius, acting chief executive at Massport. “This is a diversification play for the state of Massachusetts, saying here’s a strong working port, here’s what makes a good economy even better.”

Massport had used the 2012 report to help bolster its case for major public investments in the port, most notably a $350 million dredging project — now underway — to allow larger cargo ships to navigate Boston Harbor. Lisa Wieland, Massport’s port director, said the dredging project is 40 percent complete. So far, about 4.6 million cubic yards have been removed from the harbor floor to deepen the main channel.


The dredging project won’t be done until 2021. But Wieland said major shipping companies have committed to sending the larger ships to Boston because they know Massport has committed to the harbor project. For now, the biggest ships can approach Conley only at high tide.

Shippers also need to rearrange how cargo is unloaded because of Conley’s current constraints, she said, but Massport has committed to installing three new cranes to handle the bigger ships.

As with the earlier report, this one could come in handy when Massport tries to lobby for additional public funds. In particular, the agency is looking to upgrade the cruise terminal. The Legislature included $100 million last year in an economic development bill for the project, but the Baker administration still needs to release the money. Although Massport’s board is appointed by the governor, the agency is run separately from the administration.

That project, as well as a laundry list of others planned for Logan Airport, may end up being shepherded by a new Massport chief executive. Former CEO Thomas Glynn left in November, and a search committee is meeting in executive session on Thursday and Friday to interview finalists for his job.

The meetings are taking place at the local office of Isaacson Miller, the headhunting firm helping with the search.


Pranckevicius and Wieland have been mentioned as internal candidates, although the search committee has been reviewing outside candidates as well. A decision could happen as soon as this month.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.