Better times ahead for shipyards

About three years ago as I drove south from New Orleans to the shipyards of Lockport, La., Houma, La., Morgan City, La., and beyond, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of roadside billboards advertising for help at the shipyards that lay down the road. One after another, they were lined up like overgrown political banners that sit on those stick-like frames, pushed into the ground bordering streets and highways on election day. Eighteen months after that, the same billboards advertised for someone to “rent this sign, call…”.

I know I’ve mentioned this in my blog before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Late last year, when I was in Bayou La Batre, Ala., I saw more than one shipyard door with a sign that said the yard was not hiring. In other words, ‘there is no use talking to us, because we don’t have any positions open.’ I had never seen that before, even during a down cycle in the oil and gas industry.

Last month as I drove to Lockport, La., for the keel-laying ceremony for the Coast Guard’s first new Sentinel-class patrol boat, businesses had finally rented the signs — shipyards, mostly, looking for help. And while I haven’t been to Bayou La Batre in the last few months, I’m guessing there are no ‘we’re not hiring’ signs on shipyard front doors there either.

Shipyards in the rest of the country seem to be doing even better. Down south, employee rolls expand and contract depending on the health of the oil and gas industry. That’s not the case in other areas, but the recession was not an oil and gas industry phenomenon.

What’s made the most difference? The money markets are coming back, and people who need new boats are finding it easier to get financing. “The financial markets have returned to where we now have access to more money,” said Robert Wiklund, business development manager, global power finance division, Caterpillar Financial Services. “It’s not what it was two years ago, but there is definite improvement.”

Grab it while it’s available, before the financial flameout in Europe tightens bankers’ and other lending institutions’ fists again.

About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

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