At a time when crew boats and supply vessels bob idly at some berths in Terrebonne and Lafourche, other companies not only are continuing to do some business but actually launching new vessels and appear to be surviving what has become a local economic crisis.
With 400 employees, 31 self-propelled vessels and 68 barges in its name, the marine towing and service company would seem a most likely victim for the merciless downturn that is punishing workers and the firms that employ them. But the company is moving forward rather than staying in neutral, according to reports from its employees and owners, who say that the firm is following a well-ordered script designed to cheat market problems.
Arlen “Benny” Cenac, who manages the firm’s operations, says plans for surviving rough spots were built in to its strategy well before the downturn the industry now experiences.
“The decision we made to continue to build new boats and barges has allowed us to deploy the youngest fleet in the industry,” Cenac said. “Our continued capital expansion puts us in a unique competitive position today and for the growth that will come.”
While the local economy has indeed been failing due to external pressures primarily involving a global oil glut and hesitation by the big oil companies to produce – directly affecting service companies in the Bayou Region – Cenac’s plans appear to have placed it in a position where companies that do require the services they offer are likely to select the firm.
But an ability to weather the storm also comes from a broader base of operation, Cenac maintains.
“Years ago, Cenac Towing made a strategic decision to expand our target market,” Cenac said. “We now serve the entire Intracoastal Canal and related river systems. This regional footprint protects us from any localized downturn in the economy.”
The company was established by Benny Cenac’s grandfather, Jack, over 88 years ago. The company’s background materials say it was Jack who set the company’s values and principles, “a commitment to employee satisfaction and great company morale.”
Jack’s son, Arlen B. Cenac Sr., continued the tradition and then passed the company to Benny in 1981.
“He is committed to ensuring that the company continues to always operate as a family, and everyone from the boat captains to the deckhands are treated as such,” said a company spokesperson.
In a period of layoffs and recession, Cenac is still hiring captains, relief captains, wheelmen and tankermen.
The company caters to all major oil companies and refineries, transporting crude oil, residual fuels, feedstocks, lubricants, petrochemicals, refined products and liquefied gas.
The Quincey Cenac, one of the company’s newest vessels, drew a huge crowd for its July launch.
The 72-foot vessel, 30 feet wide, is the 24th in Cenac’s newest series. Benny Cenac said it is expected to create 10 to 12 new jobs.
The Quincey Cenac’s launch was cause for celebration for other reasons; On the same day it was christened, Cenac Marine introduced a spud barge built specifically for the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, to aid in flood protection and anti-coastal erosion efforts.
“Trying to preserve our heritage and our way of living has always occupied a special place in my heart,” Cenac said. “Our donation of this barge is just one more way to show Cenac’s commitment to protecting our parish. I am proud that we can play a small role in this overall effort. We will continue to look for ways to partner with government to ensure the future of this area is bright.”
Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove expressed gratitude for the gift, which he said will be a huge asset to the community.
“Levee protection is one of my highest priorities for Terrebonne Parish,” Dove said. Benny Cenac and Cenac Towing are showing what can be accomplished with private-public partnerships.”
Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Executive Director Reggie Dupre said the barge’s contribution is greatly appreciated, and sorely needed.
“This generous donation will save us significant money on rental equipment and allow us to expedite repairs and maintenance on our own schedule,” Dupre said.
Arlen B. Cenac Sr., was present at the ceremony and aided a child from his family break the traditional bottle of champagne against the hull of the vessel.
The ability to travel against the tide and willingness to give back even when times are hard, Cenac said, are among the tools he hopes will continue to keep the company going in the right direction.