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Golding Barge Line’s AngieSunset is among 24 barges the Vicksburg company deploys 24/7.

Golding Barge Line upping its Vicksburg stakes by $20M

» New boats, barges and hires coming to family-owned company

By TED CARTER

Golding Barge Line’s tow boats are the movers behind the barges.

Sustained growth in moving both raw crude oil and refined petroleum along America’s inland waterways has led Vicksburg’s Golding Barge Line to invest $20 million in new boats, barges and vessel hands.

The investment is expected to gain Golding Barge Line 25 workers. Some will work from Golding Barge’s Vicksburg headquarters but the bulk of new hires will be deckhands and other crew on vessels plying waterways from Panama City, Fla., and Brownsville, Texas, to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and elsewhere, the company says.

Golding Barge has been adding to its specialized cargo business at about 10 percent yearly the last several years, said Austin Golding, president of the family business.

“This will be all new business,” Golding said of the additional freight capacity the $20 million will bring.

The Golding company history begins in 1965 with Thomas Golding’s starting of Big River Shipbuilding, a shipyard and drydock service in Vicksburg. The owners of Big River Shipbuilding diversified into the operation of boats and tank barges in 1969 by forming Ole Man River Towing Inc., the company history says.

Related story: Vicksburg giving port infrastructure close look

The family sold Ole Man River to Kirby Corp. in 1992 but re-entered the tank barge industry with creation of Golding Barge Line, Inc. in 1995.

Austin Golding

The new incarnation came into the business as specialists in moving refined petroleum products, petro-chemicals, and chemical products throughout the nation’s entire inland waterway system.

“We’ve been building this business ever since,” Golding said.

“No doubt this has been a challenging year” for inland barge shippers, especially those whose crop transport business has slowed as a trade war with China continues. Last spring’s flooding along the upper stretches of the Mississippi River added to the challenges.

But shippers “on the energy side of things have excelled” this year, Golding said. “On the whole, I’m thinking the economy has been ginning. And hauling not associated with the trade war has been increasing.”

Still, it’s not increased enough to draw new petroleum haulers, Golding said.

“Our rate of return is not good enough to encourage new entries. But it is just enough you want to stay in the game and invest a little bit.”

Recent annual returns for the barge line have been from 5 percent to 20 percent, depending on the costs that are part of the calculation, according to Golding.

Golding Barge Line and its fleet of 24 tow boats and 63 barges make up a rarity in the petroleum logistics business – a stand-alone company.

Such competitors as Marathon Petroleum, Ergon Inc. and Enterprise Products have their hauling needs met through vertical integrations that give them their own tow-and-barge fleet. “They aren’t trying to make money off it,” he said. “They are in the business of servicing their companies.”

Golding said his company’s independence gives it business from foreign oil producers that want their crude blended “at the most advanced refineries in the world.” Those refineries are along the Gulf coast of the United States, he said.

The clients “are in places like Rotterdam and Singapore,” he noted. “We’re operating within that footprint.”

The foreign product in need of blending comes into ports from Tampa, Panama City and west to Houston. Golding Barge takes it along near-inshore waters of the Gulf to their refinery destinations. “Anywhere there’ is nine feet of draft, we can get there,” Golding said.

Golding’s 14,000 square-foot headquarters sits on 30 riverfront acres at 101 Lee St. The company’s current 220-person workforce is dispersed along Golding’s shipping routes.

At least 10 of the 25 new hires will be on-shore staff in Vicksburg, according to Golding. The remaining hires will be assigned to the new tow boats ad barges.

“We’re going to be 26 tow boats, 66 barges and 250 employees,” the company president said.

The two new tow boats will run about $7 million each and the barges $3.5 million apiece, Golding said.

The tow-boat-and-barge combinations – the tow-boats propel the barges – require a crew of between five and seven, “They work 24/7,” Golding said, “There’s another crew back home ready to relieve them.”

Golding, in an announcement of the expansion, said the revenue the investment generates will come out of client companies and into our community through payroll and our vendor partnerships.”

That prospect brings holiday cheer to Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs.

“I could not imagine a better way to end 2019 than with the announcement of millions of dollars in new investment and the creation of 25 good paying jobs

that will benefit residents in Warren County and the City of Vicksburg,” Flaggs said in a press statement.

“The announcement is especially important

because it is of a company that was started right here in our community and that reflects our community’s entrepreneurial spirit.”

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About Ted Carter