WJ Editorial

Despite Headwinds, River Industry Bets On The Future

This week, The Waterways Journal wraps up its series of profiles of the “40 Under 40” award winners, a group of individuals who represent the industry’s future. Among them are many whose families were involved in the river business—as has always been the case—but also plenty who came to it on their own after learning about its opportunities.

A number of people and institutions are betting on the continued growth and expansion of barging. Despite the challenges of tariffs, the overall economy is performing at its best in about 20 years. Unemployment is below 4 percent. In June, the U.S. Federal Reserve raised its outlook on economic growth and forecast growth of gross domestic product (GDP) at 2.8 percent, up from 2.7 percent, for the year. Economic activity has been rising at a “solid” rate, the Fed statement said, marking an upgrade from “moderate” in its previous statement.

The barge industry is recovering from a period of low rates due to declining coal cargoes and overbuilding, but times like these are part of the “weather” of the business.

Delgado Community College announced July 26 that it is opening a new multi-million-dollar campus in Avondale, La. The campus will house programs geared at preparing students for jobs in industries based on the Mississippi River and in Jefferson Parish. Delgado’s Maritime and Industrial Training Center provides maritime and industrial fire-fighting, radar, safety and U.S. Coast Guard-approved training.

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This issue also features a story about a new port operator who is reviving barge business at the Port of St. Joseph, Mo., who sees great potential for cargo growth along the recently-revived Missouri River—including new types of cargo such as bagged products for home landscaping.

In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Austin Golding, president of Golding Barge Line (and a “40 Under 40” winner), admitted that if agricultural tariffs continue it would affect barge movements. Asked about farmers, he said, “Most people are optimistic, but I don’t think they might be as optimistic as the administration thinks. And I don’t think they’re all doom and gloom like maybe some people outside of their world think. They’re used to volatility in the agribusiness, these guys are survivors. And I think that they’re looking for their way to survive. And I don’t think they’re looking for a subsidy. I think they’re looking for their angle, they’re looking for their market.”

Asked about the challenges of tariffs, Golding said that steel prices are having the most immediate effect on the barge business, increasing repair costs but also adding to the value of existing equipment.

He concluded, “I feel cautiously optimistic right now. I think as long as the economy is rolling we are a beneficiary and we’ll see our volumes stay the same.”