J. Parker Conrad's shipbuilding career began with the sale of his seafood company to General Foods. Conrad was retained by General Foods to oversee the building of nine wooden shrimp boats for them. When the boats were completed, he invested the profits from the sale of his business in a property on Front Street in Morgan City, LA. Conrad industries has operated a shipyard at that location ever since.
Parker's choice of location was a wise one. Located at the junction of the Atchafalaya River and the Intercoastal Waterway which is 18 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, it has been a convenient location for servicing offshore-oil operations from its inception, as well as playing a major part in supporting the shrimping industry.
The company started out only building boats, but expanded its services in 1952 by purchasing a drydock on the Intercoastal Waterway. They were then able to add boat repairs to the services offered by the company.
In 1962, Conrad Industries responded to the rapid expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling by building and repairing the vessels used in the offshore oil and gas industries. Demand was so high; they expanded their facilities in 1978 to 36,000 sq. ft. of covered work area. The company was known for its barges, crew and supply boats which shuttled personnel and materials between shore and the giant offshore platforms.
The oil and gas balloon burst in 1984, hitting Conrad Industries hard. The company rapidly refocused operations on new types of shipbuilding and repairing vessels from across the globe. The company had learned not to depend entirely on the oil and gas industry for its revenue.
It took five years for the company to get back into full production, but by 1989, the company went back to double shifts. The company built floating drydocks, multi-purpose construction barges, and an excursion boat that year. By 1997, the company was solid enough to acquire Orange Shipbuilding Co., Inc. located in Orange, Texas.
This acquisition allowed Conrad Industries to expand into building small to medium-sized vessels for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, as well as continue building the modular components Orange Shipbuilding Co. was already recognized for.
In 1998, Conrad Industries bought a conversion and repair facility in Amelia, Louisiana that was owned by Brown & Root. The site solved an issue that was becoming a problem at the Morgan City location. Silt from the Mississippi had raised the draft from 30 ft. to only 15 ft. and dredging was required to maintain the 15 ft. draft. The new site allowed Conrad Industries to service the biggest towboats and supply boats in the Gulf of Mexico.
Along with acquisition of new facilities, the company chose to reorganize in 1998. Conrad Industries, Inc. went public in June and issued 2.1 million shares of stock. The money this offering raised empowered the company to purchase another 52 acres in Amelia and build a new drydock in 2000. By 2003 the Amelia facility had four drydocks. This has made Conrad extremely competitive in the region.
Because tankers carry volatile materials it was typical to use asbestos in their construction. While asbestos offers superior fire resistance and insulation, it also releases glasslike particles into the air when disturbed. These particles are especially harmful to the lungs.
Workers in the shipyards serviced government and private vessels, including oil and gas tankers, for years without knowing the risk involved. Exposure to asbestos dust was common until the ban on its use in 1987.
Anyone who worked in the Conrad Industries shipyard, should be aware of the warning signs of asbestosis-shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs, pain in the chest and sometimes abdomen, difficulty sleeping, among others. The risk of developing mesothelioma, or asbestos cancer, is also higher among Conrad Industry shipyard workers.