New Ferry Director runs a tight ship

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Steady hand improves ferry scheduling, cuts costs at same time

Ed Goodwin

Ed Goodwin

The Director of the North Carolina Ferry Division, Ed Goodwin, has been on the job for approximately nine months. Having been appointed by Gov. McCrory, Goodwin got up to speed in order to make needed changes. The learning curve was straight vertical. Before we get into the details of a recent interview, it might be helpful for you, the reader, to know who this man is and why he was selected to run this very large department within our transportation system.

Ed Goodwin is a man of many talents. He spent the majority of his adult life as an NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) Special Agent who served on Presidential Security details all over the world. Upon retirement he returned to his home in Edenton to work on the family farm with his brother. He was elected to the Chowan County Board of Commissioners and was Chairman of that Board when they discovered that the County Manager had concealed deep county debts, forcing the State of North Carolina to threaten a takeover of County finances. As Chairman, Goodwin used various tools to reduce spending and eliminate the need for State action. All this was done without raising taxes and without substantial reductions in the labor force. Goodwin ran for the office of Secretary of State in 2012 along with the man who would become Governor, Pat McCrory. After the election, he worked for the governor as his regional representative until the decision was made to make a change at the top of the Ferry Division, and Mr. Goodwin was tapped to take on this new and additional challenge.

Over the past nine months, he has found out that changes in operations need to be taken slowly so as not to step on one’s “good intentions.” One of the biggest challenges is trying to identify the strengths and weaknesses within the organization and take corrective measures that are necessary to maximize unit cohesiveness, while not undermining morale.

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As Ed said, if the operation were called the ‘Ed Goodwin Ferry Division,’ changes would be easier to make. But there are rules within the North Carolina employee system that are more restrictive than in private industry.

Weather conditions such as wind and fog are the biggest problems that he faces in maintaining reliability of routes and times, yet the system currently maintains a 98 percent reliability factor. Boat maintenance keeps the vessels running, but maintaining a high level of operational efficiency takes the combined work of numerous departments within the division. In one instance, the maintenance team brought a ferry into the yard to replace its diesel motor. They made the change, and tested the motor and the boat was back in service in 24 hours.

There are 10 million people in this state to whom he is responsible, whether or not they ride the ferry. But those who do ride tell him once in a while when he is doing things well and are not reluctant to tell him when he has made an incorrect decision. In working to improve reliability, he has attempted to adjust the ferry schedules to accommodate the users who depend on the ferries for various reasons.

For example, he went to the owners of the PCS Mine and discussed with them what schedule would work best for their shift changes, and upon receiving that information, made the necessary alterations. Then the mine came back to them to refine the process. For the Currituck to Knotts Island run, they adjusted the ferry schedules in order to accommodate the various school and other activities that occur on the mainland with people coming to and from the island. They have several busloads of children using the ferry every day so those schedules were adjusted as well to accommodate the users who are his customers.

When Mr. Goodwin took over the Division, the image of the operation was negative, but not deserved. Some issues had been magnified and there were various reasons for that. Some things had been done a certain way for a very long time, including personnel matters. There was a general belief that nepotism was more heavily involved than what he actually discovered. Since the Ferries only run in coastal areas, there was a smaller labor pool to draw from, which would have family members working together in higher numbers than other agencies in other parts of the state.

However, during his stint as Director, Goodwin has received positive feedback from the 632 employees who make up the workforce in the Ferry Division, and while he may not know the names of every person, he makes a regular effort to ride the boats and give every employee the opportunity to see the boss — which he believes fosters good morale! He knows that to manage a large staff that upward mobility is of great importance to employees. He wants every employee to be trained well enough to take his job, if they can.

When Goodwin was tapped to run the division, he was told by Secretary of Transporation Tata that problems existed and that he was being given free rein to do whatever was needed to correct the problems. That included the fact that the prior director was demoted, and it was up to Ed to decide whether to keep him on the job were not. After a careful discussion, it was decided that the former director would now be the deputy director of the South region and an additional deputy director was elevated to manage the North region.

Keeping the management team in place was a key element in maintaining the braintrust in this operation with a less than $38 million budget — down from $41 million. In addition, while fuel prices have declined nationwide, Goodwin is looking for ways to buy fuel futures. Such a strategy should lock-in the cost of fuel at low levels offsetting higher prices down the road. Further, they have been bringing in barges and other industrial watercraft from private businesses — pressure blasting paint, and then repainting these vessels for a revenue stream.

When asked how long he plans to serve — given the fact that he has had one career already — he thinks that most people would say that when the job is done and all the problems are solved, that is the time to go away. But he likes his job and describes himself as an “ independent old cuss.” So while Goodwin is 62, and has a few more years in him, he cannot see himself doing this job when he is in his 70s. He needs to be in the job for 10 years to receive retirement pay, but he has no expectation of receiving retirement.

While much progress has been made in nine months, more needs to be done. But as Ed says, “surround yourself with the best people that you can find and afford, and then let them make you look good.” We think that statement says it all.

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