Corn Island Shipyard Builds On 33 Years Of Success

Building on its 33-year history, Corn Island Shipyard is continuing to grow.

Located at Mile 734 on the Ohio River in Grandview, Ind., Corn Island began with a single coal dock, piecing together the shipyard from equipment found at auctions in the 1980s and launching its first barge in 1991.

Through the years it has expanded, and the pace has picked up growth over the past year and a half, President Don Foertsch said. Within that time, the company has added roughly 25 people to the payroll, bringing its workforce to close to 100 employees.

“We have added equipment to make us more efficient and more productive,” Foertsch said. That has included a 300-ton crawler crane as well as a couple of overhead cranes in the shop building.

The shipyard is staying busy.

“Right now we’re building a couple of deck barges and a dredge tender,” Foertsch said. “It’s the fifth one that we’ve built like this, which is our design, and we’re building a couple of dump scows.”
The dredge tender, being built for a commercial customer, was designed in-house by the late F.M. “Bud” Johnson, a naval architect and marine engineer who served as general manager until his passing in 2017. 

Under Johnson’s leadership, the shipyard gained a reputation for its quality workmanship and good relationships with customers, Foertsch said, and that reputation has kept customers coming back, counting on Corn Island to meet their needs. “It boils down to having good people working for you,” he said.

Despite its growing size, Corn Island remains a family-owned company committed to family values. Foertsch and his father, Mason, founded the business, and now two of Foertsch’s three sons have joined him in it.

Foertsch sees a bright future ahead for both the family and the business. The dredging market has been strong for the past three or four years, he said, and Corn Island is currently building a number of jobs involving dredging equipment. 

He also foresees a market coming for big barges for offshore wind installations, and has already had conversations with potential customers. Corn Island already has the capabilities, he said, noting the company’s move toward automation to make its processes as efficient as possible. That includes a 1,000-foot fabrication building where steel comes in one end, moves to the plasma table, then to a single side welding table and finally to an automatic stiffener welder in a linear process. Foertsch said Corn Island can build barges up to 500 feet long and up to 108 feet wide and has launched vessels weighing up to 5,000 tons.