The Greenbrier Cos. said Thursday that its Gunderson Marine division in North Portland received another order for an ocean-going barge to transport oil and chemicals.
The order pushed the facility’s backlog to a five-year high and means Gunderson will be hiring another 200 workers in the next several months.
The Lake Oswego-based railcar and barge maker didn’t disclose the size of the individual order, but said it now has a $120 million backlog in its marine business, including three barges in process and another two on order. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a slice of Greenbrier’s business that remained in the doldrums after the 2008 financial crisis, even as its rail business picked up steam. Like the rail side of the business, where tank cars are hot commodities, one big driver for marine is transporting oil products.
The order from Kirby Offshore Marine is for a 578-foot tank barge with a carrying capacity of 185,000 barrels. The vessel, coupled with an identical Kirby barge order in January, is among the largest barges Gunderson has ever built. The second is scheduled for completion in early 2016, the company said.
The Gunderson plant also manufactures intermodal fright cars. Demand has not been as strong as the tank car business. but Gunderson General Manager Mark Eitzen said business has slowly ramped up and the focus has been on automating its production lines to better compete with railcar manufacturing facilities in Mexico.
Gunderson’s employee head count has been volatile during the last five years, reflecting its boom-and-bust business cycle. Eitzen said before the 2008 downturn, it reached a high of 1,200. But orders for both rail cars and barges collapsed with the U.S. economy, and employment at the facility was as low as 400 until about 18 months ago. It has hired 200 employees in recent months and expects to add another 200 in coming months, which would bring total employment at the facility to more than 1,000 workers.
- Ted Sickinger