By BRADEN LAMMERS
With the help of a federal grant, Jeffboat will add 100 new employees and a new production line to the nation’s largest inland ship builder.
The announcement of the $845,817 grant received coincided with the launch of a deck barge Wednesday morning and an announcement from acting Maritime Administrator Paul ‘Chip’ Jaenichen that Jeffboat was one of a dozen shipyards receiving grant funds.
A total of $9.46 million was doled out through the Small Shipyard Grant Program and Jeffboat was one of 113 applicants seeking the funds.
With the funding received, Jeffboat --American Commercial Line, Inc.’s manufacturing segment-- will revitalize a dormant production line.
“Jeffboat today runs three production yards,” said Patrick Sutton, vice president of Jeffboat. “We’re here to celebrate the fact that we’re going to open a fourth production yard that’s going to be running by October this year and allow us to bring on another 100 employees.”
The additional line continues the trend in increased production for Jeffboat since the recession hit. Sutton said the barge manufacturer only had two production lines running in 2009 and 2010. The company was sold to a private investment firm Platinum Equity in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Since the purchase, the company has been attempting to restructure its debt, has focused on replacing and modernizing its shipping fleet and has shown consistent growth in its manufacturing segment and producing new barges. However, the year-end results reported by American Commercial in 2012 showed a slight dip in the overall numbers of barges produced, with 220 total barges built in 2012 compared to 239 in 2011.
But the manufacturing segment has a backlog of barges to be constructed and Sutton said Jeffboat is sold out through 2015.
The new production line that will be opened will be able to produce any type of barge for its customers.
“This new line is going to be able to do anything,” Sutton said. “This is going to add about 20 percent more production volume to our shipyard on a yearly basis, which is allowing us to hire those jobs.”
He added construction on the new production line will begin immediately and by Oct. 8 the expectation is Jeffboat will begin building barges on its fourth production line.
“It’s American labor, building American vessels, employing American mariners, moving American products and that’s what I think is most exciting about today,” Jaenichen said. “The main criteria [in awarding the grant] was to ensure that where the grant went had the best return on investment and where the money could do the most good for those particular shipyards.”
The investment to open the new production line is not fully covered by the grant funds and Jeffboat is paying the bulk of the cost. The total cost of the project is about $3.5 million and the grant covers about 25 percent of the cost for the production line.
“We’re actually investing in you, the workforce that is here,” Jaenichen said. “It’s going to be meeting new market demand for both the inland and ocean tank barges. This money and this investment is going to make an already productive shipyard even more productive.”
With the addition of 100 employees, Jeffboat’s employment figures will jump from 700 people in production and 100 salaried employees to 800 production employees.
Despite being the largest inland shipbuilder, Jeffboat still met the requirements for the Small Shipyard Grant.
“Small shipyards are defined as less than 1,200 employees ... and they also certify that they are also [on] an inland waterway,” Jaenichen said.
For employment information or to apply for a job at Jeffboat visit: www.aclines.com and click on the "careers" tab.