Archived Story

Fast company

Published 8:07pm Saturday, September 14, 2013

For a world-renowned manufacturer of some of the fastest boats around, Baja Marine may be one of Beaufort County’s best-kept secrets.

Many people assumed a few legal matters and a slower production ended with the demise of the company behind popular lines Fountain, Baja, Pro Line and Donzi.

Nothing could be further from the truth, said CEO Johnny Walker.

“We’ve put 70 boats down the road since the first of January, and everybody still thinks we’ve closed,” Walker said shaking his head in disbelief. “We never locked the doors.”

The company is currently up to 65 employees. Most have been there for at least a decade. The company’s weekly payroll is about $50,000.

“If we’re paying people $50,000 a week, we’re doing something right,” Walker said.

Nearly every part of a boat is manufactured under one roof. Verna Howard works on upholstery for each of the lines. She listed two reasons she has continued working at Baja.

“No. 1, it’s close to home, and two, the environment is cool,” Howard said.

She said Walker is a great person to work for because she and co-workers can get their jobs done without being stressed or pressured to do it.

“They’re very good people,” Walker said of his employees. “It’s hard enough to work without being afraid of your boss.”

Walker keeps things interesting with little projects like building some of the fastest boats on water and getting the company to outdo itself in the production and design of faster boats. One current project is a Hemingway line nearing completion.

The new Fountain race boat Absolutely Not ran unopposed in its class in last week’s New York Super Boat Grand Prix and took the checkered flag.

One of Walker’s favorite perks is popping into a break room or warehouse and asking who wants to go for a test run on the latest completed vessel. Despite working on boats for years, some employees had never had the experience of taking one out on the water.

The facility’s access to Pamlico River is what has kept Baja Marine a permanent fixture in Beaufort County. The company had several facilities along the East Coast. When the economy slowed down and the market for luxury and sports boats changed, Baja consolidated production.

Two facilities in Florida were closed, and the production was moved to the Beaufort County facility. Walker said the decision was a “no-brainer.”

“This is a magnificent facility,” he said.

Aerial shots of each of the facilities still hang in Walker’s office. Beaufort County’s facility dwarfs the other two.

In the company’s short period of inactivity, Walker was in his office every week, and the company continued serving its current customer base.

One thriving area of business is Baja’s government contracts. The company has built or serviced at least 10 government boats this year. They sent a Pro Line to the National Park Service in Yellowstone National Park and have built several boats for France.

Parked in one bay, is one of former President George H. Bush’s five Fountain boats. Walker said Baja just completed installation of a side door on the craft.

One of Walker’s favorite pastimes is sitting at Backwater Jack’s restaurant and counting the number of Baja boats put into the water. He tells stories of happy customers, sounding like he is speaking of longtime friends.

Someone dressed like Santa Claus met a recent Florida delivery.

“He kept saying, ‘It’s like Christmas! It’s like Christmas!’ So, his family greeted him with Santa,” Walker laughed.

Customer satisfaction ranks high on Walker’s priorities. He may leave the selling to distributors around the world, but the company will always welcome a phone call from a Baja Marine boat owner.

“When you’re buying a boat that has been your dream of owning for years, that’s the kind of service you expect,” Walker said. “And the kind of service we want to give.”

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