For months, the oil and gas industry has seen an unprecedented drop in demand as so many Americans still work from home and avoid air travel. For Austin Golding, lower demand means lower activity. He is president of Golding barge line, based in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The company ships a large portion of oil and gas products from the Gulf of Mexico. He spoke with ‘Marketplace’ host Kai Ryssdal about keeping his crew amid the economic fallout from oil and how he is protecting them from the coronavirus. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: It occurred to me as we were thinking of reminding you that you have to have operations and people not just in Vicksburg, okay, but all along the Mississippi River, which means you’re dealing with them. state health authorities and state regulations and all that while you’re trying to deal with this crisis, right?
Austin Golding: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Mainly in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida. We employ people from 11 states who travel through all of those states to get to work. So yeah, we really had a lot of information to try to put together and coach.
Ryssdal: How are your people? I mean, it’s none of my business. But has anyone got sick?
Golden : Well we’ve had some good points. Fortunately, no one was hospitalized. But we were also able to eliminate an outbreak on a boat with more than about two crew members. And we had a conference call every two weeks, where we have the entire crew of each boat to do a stand-down meeting. And we have a doctor who can answer medical questions, rather than us in the office trying to do it. We found that this doctor really gave them a lot of confidence, and when he tells you it’s real, and you have to respect it, and you have to take care of yourself so you can get back to work, it looks a lot better. coming from a doctor than someone who is not an expert. So that was our angle.
Ryssdal: How long as a guy running the family business with a few hundred employees, right, trying to keep it afloat in a very bad economy that we’ll get to in a second, and how long? you move on to dealing with coronavirus and COVID? And all the rest ?
Golden : Well I mean, it’s kind of a mix of every decision we make. Everything we do has been affected by every charge and every discharge. So, you know, we’re still making the exact same decisions that we’ve made before, but with a COVID flavor to them. I mean, it’s a constant thought, and a constant factor to consider.
Ryssdal: Let’s remember here for a second that your company is transporting petroleum products, right, and oil and oil have been crushed in the market because the demand is so low. It should work for you and for the bottom line of your business.
Golden : Absoutely. It was the most brutal disruption we have experienced in the history of our company. And we definitely felt it on our side from a volume point of view and even from a speculation point of view. People just don’t move products like they used to. They cling to their capital and it is definitely passed on to us, but we are built for the future. And you know, I think we’re going to get away with a stronger company, but it’s definitely painful.
Ryssdal: You would have done some things before this pandemic hit to actually develop Golding Barge Line. You had invested $ 20 million in new people, new boats and all that jazz. Is it money lost now? I mean, how do you feel about it?
Golden : Well, yeah, I would say I feel pretty good about it. But yes, it was definitely something if we had known this was going to happen, that investment probably would have been reduced. But listen, I mean we have everything working as of today minus about 10% of our fleet. And you know, at the time it’s easy to say, “yeah, I wish we hadn’t made that kind of investment or such a big investment. But at the same time, I feel like we’re going to be thankful that we did it in the long run. This investment is for assets that will last 30 to 40 years – and the improvements and expansions of boats and barges that we have made. So at the moment it looks like a black eye, but black eyes heal.