Mobile: After 117 years one of America’s grand old shipyard names is to close. William Harrison, the president of Harrison Brothers Dry Dock & Repair Yard, explains why. He has no successor and is not keen to let a third party run it; he’s also been under the threat of Eminent Domain for 18 years, the property being the preferred route for an Interstate Highway bridge project, which has eliminated his ability to make investments in the company.
The Harrison family purchased its two parcels of land 55 and 97 years ago. The Port of Mobile has built up around them to the point that they can make a sizable income from the leasing of these properties while guarding them from the many liabilities involved in our ship repair operations.
While not offering ship repair services anymore, Harrison still has plenty to say on the sector, and is also not averse to taking up a consultancy role at another yard.
On the current market, he notes: “Margins are tight, but they have always been tight, and the volume of work is the means to producing adequate amounts of profit.”
Ship repair and shipbuilding will always be a “cash cow” business, he says, with a lot of money coming in and most of it going back out.
“Vessel owners are consolidating and providing increased volume of work to ship repair yards, but are also managing their vessels more efficiently such that the jobs are getting more frequent, but more limited in scope,” he notes.
With a history stretching back to the 19th century, Harrison reckons the travails of the industry today pale in comparison to past generations.
“The ship repair and shipbuilding industry is as vibrant as it ever was,” he claims, adding: “Many people can feel discouraged by the Great Recession, but my father told me of the hopelessness of the Great Depression, which dwarfs any of our present woes.”
Harrison says he feels able to serve another yard.
“As a shipyard owner/operator,” he says, “I had to learn a lot about business, personnel management, accounting, allocation of resources, waterfront operations, and a host of other areas.” [22/01/15]