McDermott joined a wave of engineering firms consolidating their operations in Houston this summer, underscoring a focus on overseas energy service work, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
But Lothar Birk, chairman of the University of New Orleans School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, noted many more engineering firms are adding New Orleans offices.
Gibbs & Cox Inc., a naval architecture firm based in Arlington, Va., opened a local office in early 2011. Last May, Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle reopened its New Orleans office to capitalize on oil and gas support vessel construction.
This year, Birk said UNO’s program, which graduates about 20 students annually, has been barraged with calls from naval architecture firms looking to pull new recruits from its classrooms.
“Companies consistently come and ask ‘Can we give a presentation to your students? We want to hire somebody,”’ Birk said. “There is a constant stream of those requests.”
Kenneth Humphreys and David Bourg, alumni of the UNO program and managing partners of MiNO Marine in Mid-City, said the steady flow of UNO naval architecture grads has been key in growing their company.
Humphreys and Bourg started MiNO in 2006 after careers with larger companies and now employ 24. The two plan to build a new, larger office in Jefferson in coming months.
Bourg noted the firm has developed a niche designing supply boats as well as lift boats that carry the cranes needed to pull old oil and gas infrastructure out of the ocean.
Bourg and Humphreys acknowledged more of their clients, including McDermott, are basing operations in Houston. But they noted customers also value MiNO’s ability to quickly send engineers from its New Orleans office to shipyards in Houma and across south Louisiana.
“We’re not just producing studies that go off to some other ivory tower office and get reviewed. We’re boots on the ground, in shipyards helping solve day-to-day problems,” Bourg said, adding that location will play a greater role as the firm takes on more project management work at regional shipyards.
One looming hurdle for many area firms is a shortage of qualified naval architects. Birk said the UNO naval architecture program, one of only a handful across the nation, has limited ability to fill that gap.
“The fact is we don’t have enough graduates to satisfy the hiring demand,” Birk said.
Adequately funding the program while drumming up interest among prospective students gets tougher each year amid state budget cuts, he added. While the program receives some industry support – Hornbeck, Elliott Bay, Bollinger Shipyards and Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Florida donated $58,000 to help upgrade its computer lab this month – more resources are needed to put it on stable footing, Birk said.
Sperling said hiring in New Orleans has been gradual, mostly because many of the experienced engineers Jensen seeks in south Louisiana have left corporate positions to take solo contract work. But Jensen Maritime, owned by international shipping firm Crowley Maritime Corp., has the resources to grow its New Orleans office over time, he said, noting that the region’s deep ties to the maritime industry continue to make it an attractive place for investment.<< previous 1 2