A Mid-Stream Mission
Cooper Consolidated innovates along the Mississippi River
For most companies, the process of cargo transfer can be consuming of both time, resources and manpower: first, the ship bearing the cargo must carefully navigate alongside the dock and be secured before a shore crane can even begin unloading and moving cargo. However, this is not the case for Cooper Consolidated, LLC in the Port of South Louisiana, whose services span between Southwest Pass and Baton Rouge.
Thanks to a company culture prioritizing innovation and customer service, Cooper has been able to refine the cargo transfer process with their 12 high speed, high capacity floating cranes and 12 deep-draft ship berths. Their assets extend through all sectors of the industry, including inland terminaling, stevedoring, warehousing, marine, trucking and rail.
“Mid-Stream stevedoring is a segment of the marine cargo handling industry where cargo vessels come in and tie up to our ship buoys, and we bring our floating cranes alongside and transfer directly to or from barges,” said Billy Fitzpatrick, managing director of sales and logistics at Cooper Consolidated.
With eight full service barge fleeting sites and three ship terminal sites between Belle Chasse and Baton Rouge, the company’s unique stevedoring assets have helped them to offer services that fill gaps in traditional mid-stream services and operations. These services are available 24/7, through every day of the year and in every weather and river condition that mother nature can throw at you.
Fitzpatrick explained that this operating schedule is just one way that Cooper Consolidated has lived up to its business philosophy of embracing change and innovation for the sake of its customers.
“We have a very customer-oriented culture in that we try and solve their problems and be proactive,” Fitzpatrick said. “We want to form relationships with them to keep their business on a long-term basis. That’s of paramount importance to us.”
Cooper Consolidated celebrated its 15th anniversary this past January, but its legacy stretches far past that. Its parent companies, Consolidated Grain & Barge and Cooper Stevedoring Company, were founded in 1969 and 1905 respectively. Consolidated Grain & Barge “operates a diverse family of businesses in the grain and marine transportation industries,” while Cooper/T. Smith Corporation is “one of America’s oldest and largest stevedoring and maritime related firms with operations on all three U.S. Coasts,” according to Fitzpatrick. The companies combined their Lower Mississippi River assets in an operating agreement to create Cooper Consolidated in 2003.
Back in the 1970’s, Cooper Stevedoring was one of the pioneers of the mid-stream segment and today Cooper Consolidated carries on that mission.
Cooper’s deep-draft ship berths and floating cranes are just some of the main assets that have put the company on the cutting edge, and Fitzpatrick said their services do not stop there.
In addition to its core business of barge fleets and mid-stream stevedoring, Cooper offers full logistics services to its customers, helping them to manage and execute shipments from start to finish. One point of contact oversees the shipment, transfer, handling and storage of the cargo, as well as coordinating barge, rail and truck transportation to inland destinations.
“Another unique asset we have is the grain elevator AMERICA, which transfers grain and grain by products directly from barge to vessel,” he said. “We also have the floating transfer station LMO, which can transfer coal or pet coke directly from barge to vessel.”
Fitzpatrick said that these asset innovations, along with any new territorial expansions, are made strategically and deliberately to benefit both the customers and the company.
Change and innovation is a big part of our culture, and we try to be adaptable to different market conditions,” he said.
One example of this is Cooper Consolidated’s start-up of new barge fleeting and ship berths in 2014 in Belle Chasse, which allowed the company to expand its ship operations. The new ship berths include one specifically designed to handle the larger, deep draft, next generation post panamax and cape size cargo vessels. However, Fitzpatrick noted that the company is careful not to expand to a point where customer service will ever falter.
“The challenge is really to grow your business and services, but at the same time, don’t let your grasp overextend your reach,” Fitzpatrick said. “Growth for the sake of growth is not always wise. You need to be opportunistic and grow where the opportunities are. We’re very cognizant of staying within our capabilities and not making promises that we can’t keep.”
This can be especially difficult for any company dealing not just with competition, but also with the ever-changing economic circumstances driving their business. But by innovating aptly and intelligently and by creating assets that the competitors do not possess, Fitzpatrick said Cooper Consolidated has established its mettle and set itself at the forefront of the industry.
“We feel our people assets and equipment assets are the strongest in the industry,” he said. “We own and operate our own assets, and that gives our customers the most reliable and flexible service that can be achieved”.