Fanny S. Chirinos Reports: Apex Poses Potential Competition for Trained Maritime Workers

For immediate release: Apr 6, 2010

 — The interest by Apex Group of Companies in Naval Station Ingleside for a shipbuilding operation has raised concern about where the Houston-based company would recruit its workforce.

The company plans on expanding a subsidiary, SwiftShips, by leasing 576 base acres and 433 neighboring port-owned acres. Apex officials initially plan to create 500 jobs at Ingleside.

A letter dated April 1 from Lutfi Hassan, Apex’s chairman, to John LaRue, the Port of Corpus Christi’s executive director, stated the company was eyeing Ingleside because of its availability of talented, maritime workforce, a prerequisite for SwiftShips. Apex also is looking at other locations, but prefers Ingleside because of its workforce.

The presumption is that those workers would be lured from other local maritime-related companies that worked with local education and workforce development entities to help train them. Gulf Marine Fabricators in Ingleside and Aransas Pass is one example.

The local facilities, owned by Louisiana-based Gulf Island Fabrication, fabricate offshore drilling and production platforms and other specialized structures.

Kerry J. Chauvin, Gulf Island’s CEO and chairman, said he has heard about the Apex proposal, but doesn’t know any of the specifics of the company or its plans for Ingleside.

He added that his company has laid off employees in the past year or so, bringing its peak number of 2,000 down to about 1,400 company-wide. Chauvin declined to say how many employees worked at the Ingleside and Aransas Pass facilities.

“Hopefully, we’ve treated our workforce well and they’ll stick around,” Chauvin said. “We expect the industry to turn around toward the end of the year at which time we expect to hire more employees.”

Rare is a company that hasn’t been affected by the economic downturn. The number of skilled, qualified workers in the Coastal Bend might easily be higher than 500.

Hassan’s letter also states that Hassan has not seen any efforts to create incentives to move to Ingleside.

“We’re not just talking about economic incentives, but a list of what the area has to offer a company such as ours,” said Mustafa Tameez, an Apex consultant. “We are customers and we would think the region would want us there.”