More boat jobs for the county?

Published 2:41 pm Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Staff Writer

A major boat manufacturer may relocate to Beaufort County.
Donzi Marine of Sarasota, Fla., could move its boat-making operations to the Washington area, sources indicated.
No official announcement has been made, but media reports suggest the move might be in the works.
The consolidation could bring hundreds of jobs to Beaufort County as the economy improves.
The search for jobs has grown desperate in Beaufort County, where, since the late 1990s, thousands of jobs have been lost to outsourcing and shutdowns in arenas ranging from textiles to small kitchen appliances.
Locally, jobs have grown even more scarce of late, and the county unemployment rate has exceeded 10 percent for at least 18 months.
Donzi is considering outsourcing measures as part of an effort to cut costs, Bill Gates, chief executive officer of Donzi and Pro-Line Boats, told the Herald-Tribune newspaper of Sarasota.
Gates couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
A man who answered the phone at Donzi said no one was available to speak with a reporter.
Donzi’s relocation to the Washington area or Chocowinity area likely would complement world-renowned local company Fountain Powerboats, whose parent company, Fountain Powerboats Industries Inc., successfully emerged from bankruptcy this year.
Fountain has reorganized with Liberty Investments, which the Herald-Tribune and past Washington Daily News reports identified as a private equity entity.
Fountain emerged from the restructuring with Liberty as its majority owner, the Daily News has reported.
Gates has said Liberty is also the majority owner of Donzi and Pro-Line, according to past WDN reports.
The Beaufort County Economic Development Commission and the nonprofit Beaufort County Committee of 100 supported Liberty’s investment in Fountain, said Tom Thompson, the county’s chief economic developer.
“One of the activities that we were heavily engaged in as a Committee of 100 and an Economic Development Commission during the Fountain restructuring was to lend our support to the buyer that we thought had the most to offer Beaufort County,” Thompson commented.
The publicly funded EDC and its private partner, the Committee of 100, preferred Liberty because the people behind the equity firm wanted to maintain Fountain’s prestige, he said. Liberty also showed an interest in expanding the boat manufacturer’s existing Chocowinity plant, once the economy supported expansion, he said.
“We’re still treading water and hoping for an improvement in the economy,” Thompson pointed out.
It was hoped that once Liberty acquired Fountain it would move Donzi and Pro-Line here, county economic-development officials have said.
“All I can tell you is that we have been trying very hard to accomplish that objective since they got here,” Thompson added, speaking of the Fountain connection.
A call to Fountain wasn’t immediately returned.
Al Klemm, EDC chairman and a Beaufort County commissioner, said he normally doesn’t comment on confidential business discussions.
Klemm did express hope that Donzi and Pro-Line would make Beaufort County their new home.
“We’d very much like them and anybody else to consolidate their business in Beaufort County,” he said. “At some point, the market’s going to come back, and the more we have consolidated here the better we’re going to do.”
No further details were available Tuesday.