Chances are the car you’re driving contains steel that arrived in Metro Detroit on a ship. Oceangoing vessels and Great Lakes freighters deliver many of the raw materials local manufacturers use to make things. The Port of Detroit, which oversees 25 private and public shipping terminals on the Detroit River and its tributaries, handles millions of tons of cargo every year. So far in 2017, the Nicholson Marine Terminals in Detroit and Ecorse have received 23 percent more cargo than they did during the first six months of 2016.
John Loftus recently retired as the executive director of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority. He says the increase in cargo traffic signals a stronger economy.
“There’s a lot of activity going on, construction-wise,” Loftus says. “A lot of the cargo we handle, especially general cargo, is going into a variety of products.”
Loftus estimates the Port of Detroit handles 15- to 20-million tons of cargo annually, and supports 15,000 jobs in the region. The local shipping industry employs dock workers and truck drivers to move cargo on land, and welders to repair ships. It’s hard work, but Loftus says, many jobs pay well. At one terminal in Ecorse, he says shipyard employees can earn more than $40,000 per year. With benefits, Loftus says total compensation can about $60,000.
“This is a living wage,” Loftus says.”These are not minimum wage jobs. These are skilled workers and they are paid commensurate with that skill level.”
Loftus says there’s a shortage of shipping workers in Metro Detroit. Many companies, including Nicholson Marine Terminals, offer training for their workers. He says there are jobs for people who are willing to learn and work hard.
“There are opportunities for jobs on the docks, there are truck driving jobs that are available,” Loftus says. “There’s just a tremendous amount of opportunity, if you’re willing to go out and get the training and do what’s necessary.”
John Loftus retired on July 31. Kyle Burleson was named interim executive director on Aug. 1. His appointment is set to end on Feb. 1, 2018.
Click on the audio player to hear John Loftus speak with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.