Manning the Port

Maxwell and Hart Are Longtime Directors

By Faith Strong

Port directors have a very important job when it comes to river operations, especially with the comings and goings of commercial water traffic. Their role impacts everyone involved, including the farmer and the merchant who uses the water for transport. He or she oversees the activation and operations of the port of entry. 

Robert Maxwell is AMPE (Accredited Maritime Port Executive) port director at Rosedale-Bolivar County Port Commission. He has been at the Rosedale port since 2009 and says he was assistant port director at first.

“David Work, the very first port director for the Port of Rosedale, was planning to retire in 2009 after thirty-three years of service as port director,” says Maxwell. “My wife and I were living in Birmingham at the time, but I was looking for a new job due to the market crash of 2008.  Someone had mentioned to me the advertisement for a new port director and David’s plans to retire. Since there were so many people who had also been laid off around Birmingham and a lot of companies weren’t quite back in a position to fill vacancies, I decided to apply for the job and luckily was chosen for it. I started in November of 2009 as assistant port director while my wife finished out the school year in Pelham, Ala., close to where we were living in Calera. We got fully relocated around May/June of 2010.  David retired at the end of June in 2010, so I became the port director officially on the first of July, 2010.  This past November was the beginning of what will be my fifteenth year at the Port of Rosedale.”

Before becoming port director, Maxwell did a variety of jobs that were very far removed from port director, but was interesting in their own right.

“I grew up in Ruleville and graduated North Sunflower Academy and Delta State,” he says. “I briefly worked for Farm Bureau Insurance Co. for Sunflower County in the Ruleville office while my then fiancé and I were planning our wedding and the start of our life together. During that time, I received an opportunity to work for CDX Gas in Pineville, West Virginia. They were in the business of coal bed methane exploration and production. I did various jobs with CDX for several years, even transferring with them from West Virginia to Birmingham, Alabama. The last job I did with CDX was that of a petroleum land man, which entails performing property ownership title searches for particular tracts of land in an area desirable for the company. The ownership of the mineral rights was what we were mainly searching for. You would then locate and meet with the owner(s) in the hopes of obtaining a lease of their mineral rights. My wife, Pam, and I were there for almost four years before the 2008 market crash. CDX was forced to lay off many of their employees and I was one of them. I was able to do some contract work as a land man doing title work for another gas company between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham before applying for the job I have now.”

As port director, Maxwell has faced many challenges over the years, including the low water issue.

“There are several issues that can arise when the river reaches lower than normal lows, especially for extended periods of time,” he says. “There is the issue of not having enough water to be able to load barges with grain for shipping out. That happened for a period this year to all businesses that typically ship grain out during the fall. The most unusual thing about the low water this year is that it was the second year in a row for the types of water levels we have experienced. That usually does not happen in back to back years, but you learn quickly that the river does what the river wants.”

 Maxwell has done many things throughout his professional career, but he says that port director brings him a satisfaction and a joy that he loves and he feels really blessed.

“The river industry is very much like a family of sorts,” he says. “So one of the more enjoyable things about my job is all the people I get to meet and not only gain good business contacts but also friends that can call on each other anytime we run into a question or a problem. I also love all the places we get to see while attending various conferences, and I am fortunate that Pam is able to join me on many of those trips as well. 

“I am lucky to have very good and capable people working at the port and helping me run the day-to-day business of the port. This allows me to go out and be away from the port to meet with potential customers or local, state, and federal legislators or other government organizations. All of that can help the port to advance business for existing port tenants and entice new companies to locate and/or use the Port of Rosedale, and in turn create more job opportunities and economic development for the benefit of the port and Bolivar County as a whole.”

Tommy Hart is port director of the Port of Greenville. Hart has been in his position since 2008. The port handles a wide spectrum of cargoes twenty-four hours per day and also supplies steel companies around the world by barge, truck and container. Hart says he began his professional career as the director of Economic Development  in Greenville.

“I was Economic Development director for Washington County for a little over thirty-seven years when I retired in 2008,” he says. “I worked on getting many industries to open in Greenville and many did locate in the port. So I was very familiar with the port area and the manufacturers and processors that were located in the port. I went to work as port director in 2008 when the former director Harold Burdine, who did a spectacular job, suddenly passed away. And they needed someone to handle things that had come up, so I stepped in to help out and then later agreed to stay full time.”

Hart says he’s had to face many challenges along the way as port director, including low water levels.

“There are many challenges in operating a port and I learned those in two years,” he says. “In 2011 we had an historic high water period. The next year, in 2012, we had a record low water event. So I got a quick education on the two extremes and tried to maintain operations at the same time. I got a lot of experience in a hurry.”

Hart loves what he does and is thankful he took the job each and every day.

“It’s fascinating work,” Hart says. “The port is a catalyst for growth in the area and what we’ve tried to do is to expand the capabilities of our services. To offer those services to at least a 100 or 150 mile radius. We want to be competitive and have guaranteed service. And I’ve learned to adapt as we’re continually trying to refine our operations and changing. What we unloaded five years ago, we’re not unloading today. We’re in a brand new business. We’re basically in agriculture and that’s good for the region. It provides the most efficient transportation cost for the regional farming community to get their product to market. It’s very important to the local economy. My excitement comes from building and rebuilding the operation. We have totally rebuilt everything that’s in the port, especially our port terminal. It’s great and I love it.” economy. My excitement comes from building and rebuilding the operation. We have totally rebuilt everything that’s in the port, especially our port terminal. It’s great and I love it.”