Maine ports and the communities surrounding them are bustling as the fall cruise ship season kicks into high gear. “Leaf peepers” from throughout the world pick Maine this time of year to enjoy the gorgeous fall foliage. This year, approximately 320 ships are expected to call on Maine’s 10 ports, bringing nearly a quarter of a million visitors to our shores. The early May arrival and late fall departure of these vessels represent very important shoulder season traffic for our local economy.

The cruise industry helps market the state of Maine domestically and internationally to nontraditional visitors. These are the folks who, if it were not for the cruise industry, might not otherwise have had an opportunity to visit Maine. According to industry experts, many of these passengers then return to the port they visited within a two-year period of time.

Each one of these ships plays a vital role in supporting our small businesses, affecting not only our current but also future economy.

More than a dozen of these visits are so-called maiden voyages or first-time stops in Maine. This means more cruise lines are discovering Maine as a destination.

Earlier this summer, Eastport welcomed its first-ever cruise ship, one of five scheduled to visit America’s easternmost city this season. Expanding service to Eastport now puts Down East Maine in the world spotlight providing a huge boost to local businesses.

A robust cruise industry is great news for many businesses in the state, because more revenue means more jobs for Mainers.

Last month, the industry reached quite a milestone, as four Maine ports were active all at once

for the first time. It was the busiest day ever for Maine’s cruise industry as more than 6,400 passengers and crew visited the ports of Eastport, Bar Harbor, Rockland and Portland.

According to Business Research and Economic Advisors, Maine’s cruise ship industry had an economic impact of about $45 million last year, a 25 percent increase from 2010. This increase shows the strength of the overall product and indicates real potential for future growth.

The cruise industry helps sustain roughly 800 jobs and wages totaling $25 million in income for Maine chandlers, pilots, welders, longshoremen, shopkeepers, tour operators and travel agents, just to name a few. The industry is also helping our lobstermen navigate through a rocky season by purchasing and serving to passengers tons of fresh Maine lobster.

When passengers step ashore, they are immediately exposed to the beauty of Maine. But beyond the scenery is a state full of opportunity. Under the leadership of Gov. Paul LePage, Maine is on a path to prosperity and open for business. We have implemented sound policy initiatives and fiscal responsibility, reducing the stranglehold on job creators.

A vibrant cruise industry allows us an opportunity to sell Maine and convince passengers that this is not only a beautiful place to visit but also an attractive place to study, invest and prosper.

George Gervais is commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.