Are boat makers coming?

Published 5:46 pm Thursday, September 23, 2010

Staff Writer

Company officials haven’t decided whether they will consolidate the now-Florida-based plants that turn out Donzi Marine and Pro-Line boats under one roof at Fountain Powerboats’ Chocowinity plant, according to Bill Gates, chief executive officer of Donzi and Pro-Line Boats.
“We have not made any decision on that,” Gates told the Washington Daily News on Wednesday. “We’re continuing to evaluate our mid-term and our long-term strategy. There is going to be some interim work done in North Carolina, but we have not made any decisions as far as how things will pan out on a permanent basis.”
The Daily News contacted Gates, who’s also chairman of Fountain, for response to a post on The Hull Truth Boating and Fishing Forum, a website dedicated to the discussion of boating and fishing.
The post claimed that Gates had decided to concentrate Donzi, Pro-Line, Fountain and Baja production “under one roof” at Fountain’s Chocowinity plant off Whichard’s Beach Road.
Gates indicated the post is inaccurate.
“We’ve made some interim decisions,” he commented. “We have not made any long-term, permanent decisions. We’re probably a month or so away from doing that.”
Asked whether these interim decisions could bring jobs to Beaufort County, Gates nodded to the sluggish economy as a drag on job creation.
“Again, this is a slow time of the year, so, unfortunately, there’s been head-count reductions at Fountain just because of the seasonality of the business,” he said. “Our first preference would be to utilize people that are on temporary layoff, keep them employed as actively as we can.”
He said his boat makers are trying to manage their businesses based on orders and costs, just like other boat manufacturers.
“We thought we’d be a lot farther ahead of the game than we are right now,” Gates remarked. “Unfortunately, our business is based month-to-month on orders.”
Reggie Fountain, president and chief executive officer of Fountain, wasn’t immediately available for an interview.
Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s economic developer, said he couldn’t confirm rumors that Donzi and Pro-Line are heading to the Washington area.
“If it is true, I would not be surprised,” Thompson said. “It’s a natural match, and one which we began arguing for back about six months ago when there was a battle for which company would own Fountain under the bankruptcy proceeding.”
Fountain emerged from bankruptcy this year.
Fountain reorganized with Liberty Investments, which media reports have identified as a private equity firm. Liberty is the majority owner of Donzi, Pro-Line and Fountain.
Thompson said the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission and its partners argued in favor of Liberty’s involvement with Fountain because Liberty also owned Donzi and Pro-Line — ingredients for a perfect business marriage.
“Ultimately, the boat business will come back,” he said. “If, in fact, this is going to occur, those four plants (would) have about 1,200 employees. So, it could conceivably become a very large manufacturing operation in the future. Obviously, the boating industry’s not going to rebound quickly.”
Gates said he would keep local media apprised of any further developments.