For those too young to remember the TV game show Concentration, here’s the short version of how it worked: There was a giant board upon which a rebus (a picture puzzle that suggested words or phrases) was printed. In front of the rebus were 30 small boxes or 15 matches in all. Each time a contestant found a match, the little boxes would flip, revealing a small section of the rebus. As the game continued, more of the puzzle was revealed. The first contestant to solve the rebus was the winner. Eventually, the entire puzzle was shown to the TV audience.
I bring this up because what’s happening in the workboat industry reminds me of the old game show. As we progress through 2010, little pieces of the rebus that is the industry’s recovery are being revealed. Actually seeing signs of recovery – or for our purposes being in the game – is a big improvement over 2009, when the game seemed to shut down completely for many players.
But now the game is on. Here’s a few examples:
1. The number of jackup rigs in the Gulf of Mexico in mid-November 2009 was 24. (In August 2009, it was 18.) By the end of February, Gulf jackups numbered 39.
2. Export coal through the Lower Mississippi River fell 45 percent from 2008 to 2009. Coal exports through the Lower Mississippi are expected to grow this year because of increased demand from China and other areas and the need to replenish depleted inventories at East Coast terminals. That means more traffic on the inland waterways and more activity at U.S. ports.
3. Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO) has doubled the size of its training center in Galliano, La. Recruiting and retaining new blood in the workboat industry has been a major problem for years. This year, however, was the first time in recent memory that Gulf shipyards had signs up that said they weren’t hiring. Now ECO is doubling the size of its training center. Given ECO’s track record, what does that tell you?
The above are just three examples of little boxes being revealed all over the board.
Right now the game is moving slowly. We can’t see enough of the board to solve the puzzle that holds the key to a recovery. Perhaps we will be able to solve the puzzle by the end of the year.
The good news is that we’re back in the game.