An industrial mainstay in southeast Indiana is shutting down. Jeffersonville-based Jeffboat LLC, located on what’s considered the largest inland shipyard in the United States, is expected to close around the end of next month. One Southern Indiana says up to 170 workers will be affected by the decision.
1si Chief Executive Officer Wendy Dant Chesser says her organization, which serves as the economic development and chamber of commerce representative in Clark and Floyd counties, "stands ready to assist in any transition plan to help the effected employees identify other sustainable work opportunities in our region." Dant Chesser says displacement and retraining initiatives with partner organizations such as WorkOne and Ivy Tech Community College could be activated. She adds multiple companies have contacted 1si about hiring workers affected by previous rounds of layoffs at the barge manufacturer that were announced by the state in November and February. Earlier this month, WorkOne held a job fair focused on the displaced employees.
In previous notices to the state, the company cited challenges in the barge-building market as the reason for layoffs. Dant Chesser says "we implore the officials of Jeffboat to consider the community, its needs and the future of regional business and talent attraction and retention, when creating a transition plan for the 80-acre property with one mile of river front currently occupied by the shipyard."
The shipyard where the company calls home is owned by American Commercial Barge Line and has been in continuous operation for more than 180 years.
Teamsters Local 89, which is based in Louisville and represents Jeffboat workers, issued a statement on Facebook that reads:
It is with heavy hearts that we confirm reports that Jeffboat, the nation’s largest inland shipbuilder and one of Local 89’s oldest companies, is shutting down. Over the last several years, the shipbuilding industry has seen a massive decline and while this cycle has occurred in decades past, this time it was unfortunately too much for the company to bear.
‘It’s a very sad day for a lot of hard-working, ship-building craftsmen and craftswomen,’ said Business Agent Jim Kincaid, a former worker at Jeffboat. ‘I worked beside a lot of these folks for many years through the most extreme weather anybody can imagine. They always delivered the best barge or towboat in the industry. They poured their heart and souls into it. They took pride in their work and built some of the best vessels on the rivers and oceans. Words can’t express how saddened we are that this historical ship yard is closing its doors.’
‘For me this is heartbreaking news that the Boat Yard will be closing. Like so many others, I started my career there as a young man working as a 1st class welder and Pipe-fitter. I have met so many great people over the course of time there,’ said Business Agent and Recording Secretary Jeff Cooper, also a former worker at Jeffboat. ‘When I say great people, that’s exactly what I mean, people that work extremely hard at building a great big ass American made product the old-fashioned way like no other, and it was always built under the Union Label with extreme pride.’
The Jeffboat shipyard has been a staple of Jeffersonville, Indiana for decades and even before they began building barges, steamboats were built in that very same spot over a century ago by another company. It is tragic to see such a historical site shut down, both for the immensely skilled workers there, and the city of Jeffersonville as a whole.
‘The loss of these jobs is devastating but experienced and highly trained Union Sisters and Brothers always prevail in the end. We dust ourselves off, pick up the pieces and we move on to our next adventure,’ said Cooper. ‘In the near future we will be meeting with the employer to bargain the effects of the closure with the goal of securing all the right and benefits that they are entitled to and help transition our membership onto their next adventure.’
‘We are going to do everything in our power to find these brothers and sisters other jobs and help them to pick up the pieces,’ said Kincaid. ‘They are good, hard-working folks. They will be an asset to anybody who hires them in the future.’
Jeffboat’s website says as of 2016, the company employed more than 1,000 "architects, engineers and craftsmen." At the height of World War II, the company says military contracts and the U.S. Navy’s purchase of the neighboring Howard Shipyard contributed to growth at Jeffboat that expanded its work force to 13,000. Jeffboat took over all operations on the property in 1947 and turned to inland barge and towboat building.