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Chamber panel highlights river industry impact

October 14, 2021   The Paducah Sun

Chamber panel highlights river industry impact


Deb Calhoun, senior vice president of the Waterways Council Inc., moderated the panel discussion among maritime industry leaders during Thursday’s Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce Power in Partnership breakfast. The panel included, from left: Chad Dorsey, Inland Waterways Gateway Office; Damon Judd, Marquette Transportation; Matt Rickets, Crounse Corp.; and Oscar Harrell, Ingram Barge Company.



The river industry’s importance to the community took center stage at Thursday’s Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce Power in Partnership breakfast at the Julian Carroll Convention Center.


A panel of local leaders involved in the maritime industry discussed Paducah’s unique position within the inland waterways system, how the industry serves as an economic driver for the area and the key role it plays in the country’s overall transportation system.

The panel was moderated by Deb Calhoun, senior vice president of Waterways Council Inc., a national public policy organization that advocates on behalf of the inland waterways and ports.


Panel participants included Chad Dorsey, director of the Inland Waterways Gateway Office in Paducah; Oscar Harrell, vice president of operations, Ingram Barge Company; Damon Judd, president/CEO, Marquette Transportation; and Matt Ricketts, president/CEO, Crounse Corporation.


They fielded questions on a variety of topics, including the importance of having a reliable inland waterways system, the type of commodities that are moved on the system, and some of the the challenges river industry is facing.


“Reliability of the lock and dam infrastructure on the waterways is really the foundation that makes the waterways what it is. It allows us to take advantage of the natural resource that is unmatched anywhere else in the world,” Ricketts said.


“Moving product on the inland waterways is the most efficient mode of transportation that we have in this nation and it does not occur without an extremely reliable infrastructure. That benefits not only this community and our individual companies but the country as a whole.”


Judd spoke about why the inland waterways are so well suited to transport bulk commodities.


“About 30% of what we move as a whole is some kind of agricultural product,” he said. “As you add up coal, chemicals and some other natural resources that’s about 45%. Steel, rock, frack sand, anything that requires a bulk commodity move is well suited for the river system.”


Harrell said the community is very supportive of the river industry and the type of businesses represented on the panel. However, like other industries, a shortage of workers is an issue.


“I would say we are doing well in spite of it, but we’ve had to work a lot harder to get people in,” he said. “If you look at it, you have to hire 10 in order to have seven stay. That’s the new norm. In years past, we had people waiting in line to come into our industry.”

Ingram has retention programs, such as sweepstakes for people working through the harvest having an opportunity to win things like ATVs and kayaks, Harrell said.


Dorsey was selected to serve as the Maritime Administration’s director of the Gateway office when it was established in 2018.

“The way that came to be there was a study done of multiple potential spots for the new office and Paducah came out on top,” he said.

“That was because of its central location, it’s inland waterways carriers located here and the ability for the Maritime Administration to interact with stakeholders to build infrastructure for our inland waterways.”


Calhoun, now located in Paducah and working remotely with the Washington, D.C.-based Waterways Council, was glad to have an opportunity to address the local business audience on behalf of the inland waterways system.


“I think it’s extremely beneficial because even though Paducah is, as I call it, the epicenter of the marine industry, many don’t know exactly what is moving behind that floodwall,” she said.


“This is a great opportunity to really lay out what the industry is doing and how it’s a community builder, why it’s important to the nation, and why it’s important for job creation right here in west Kentucky.”

Follow David Zoeller on Twitter, @DZoeller_The Sun