Riding a wave of demand

April 29th, 2016

News Coverage:

April 29, 2016

Riding a wave of demand

Doug LeDuc | KPC Media

Product innovation at Brunswick Corp.’s Harris and Cypress Cay Pontoons and national pontoon boat demand trends have supported at least 58 percent employment growth at the company’s Fort Wayne area plant in recent years.

The company employed 161 in the Fort Wayne in 2013 when it relocated local production to a 360,000-square-foot plant at 1111 N. Hadley Road to accommodate the growth it was expecting. Last year it told local economic development officials the plant’s workforce had expanded to 255.

The relocation “has allowed us to not only expand our business, but it also has allowed us to refine our processes and material handling so that we can produce an even higher quality of pontoon boats,” Nick Stickler, president of Harris and Cypress Cay Pontoons, said in an email.

“And continuing to produce these boats in Fort Wayne, after doing so for nearly 60 years, is a testament to the strong community and infrastructure here.”

Data released in February by the National Marine Manufacturers Association showed pontoon boat sales grew 9.3 percent last year. Pontoons represented 28.7 percent of outboard boat sales in 2014 and about the same share the previous year, Kelly Kalor, a spokeswoman for the association, said in an email.

The boating industry is big business in Indiana. In northeast Indiana, it uses some of the same suppliers that are used by the region’s recreational vehicle industry. In 2012, there were 431 boating businesses in Indiana and the industry’s estimated impact on the state that year came to $2.3 billion, Kalor said.

“Our operations here in Fort Wayne continue to expand. We continue to increase our workforce and our investment in not only this manufacturing facility, but also in our northern Indiana suppliers,” Stickler said.

Product versatility and innovation are the force behind the industry’s growth, and in Fort Wayne a talented and experienced workforce helps to accelerate the pace of development for the two pontoon lines made at the plant, Harris and Cypress Cay, he said.

“Our current model year introduced one completely redesigned model, the Cabana, along with two new models, including the Solstice Recreational Deck – with a second deck – and the new V270, a center console model with a walk-in head,” Stickler said.

The plant where the boats are made is more than twice the size of the company’s previous local production facility and Brunswick is confident enough in its future growth to enter into an agreement to expand the plant’s workforce to 321 this year and then to 361 between 2017 and 2022, in return for incentives from the city and Allen County.

The city and county are leasing equipment from Brunswick, which the company uses to make the pontoons. This year the city will pay $77,700 and the county will pay $25,900 for the equipment. Next year the city will pay $87,052 and the county will pay $29,017.

The plant’s annual payroll is projected to reach $13.2 million this year and a little less than $15 million between 2017 and 2022.

“There is still a lot of opportunity for these Fort Wayne-produced boat brands to expand and, with the help of our capable dealers, we expect to see more Harris and Cypress Cay pontoon boats on the water this summer,” Stickler said.

Bennington Marine, another pontoon boat producer in the region, also had a busy 2015 when it acquired Nautic Global Group. The deal was announced in September and closed for an undisclosed price the following month.

Bennington was founded in Elkhart in 1997 by Steve Vogel. Nautic also was based in Elkhart; some of its better known brands included Aqua Patio, Sweetwater, SanPan, Hurricane, Rinker, Godfrey and PolarKraft.