Jobs flowing at Fountain

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Executive John Walker points to boats being fabricated Tuesday at Fountain Powerboats in Chocowinity. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

CHOCOWINITY — Machines are humming and the employee parking lot is nearly full at Fountain Powerboats.

There are good reasons for that.

The consolidation of boat-making operations at Fountain’s plant has put dozens of local people back to work in the past six months.

John Walker, president of the combined outfits that make four boat lines — Baja, Donzi, Pro-Line and Fountain — said there were just 30 employees on campus when he came to work at the plant last year.

Walker took the helm at Fountain after Donzi and Pro-Line were relocated here from Crystal River and Sarasota, Fla.

The head count in Chocowinity now is 165 workers, all but five of whom had worked at Fountain before being laid off during the economic downturn, Walker related.

“We’ve brought back 135 people since Thanksgiving (2010),” he said, adding, “Our intention is by this time in June to be over 200 people.”

The company’s weekly payroll is around $160,000 a week, Walker said.

The combine also has relocated some manpower and equipment from Florida, including manufacturing machinery and pickup trucks, though much of the equipment on hand was carried over from the previous incarnation of Fountain.

But an investment has been made in new machines at Fountain’s 60-acre property, with its 258,000 square feet of buildings.

Among the equipment Walker pointed to was a $25,000 graphic printer used to turn out decals for luxury boats that cost anywhere from an average of $300,000 up to $1 million.

A state grant recently awarded to Fountain depends on local investment, Walker said.

he corporate entity turning out these boats already has satisfied grant criteria, and the company has paid Beaufort County property taxes that were past due, Walker said.

In March, it was reported Fountain owed $26,890.20 in past-due taxes on parcels at its plant site, located just off Whichard’s Beach Road.

Walker said the delay in paying the taxes was “a conscious business decision,” and that the company wasn’t prepared to pay the bill when it first arrived.

“It certainly isn’t illegal or immoral,” he said.

In November, Keith Crisco, North Carolina’s commerce secretary, announced the combination of four boat lines at Fountain would result in an investment of $5.1 million through 2015.

To date, roughly $2 million in equipment has been transferred from Florida to Fountain, Walker said.

Crisco announced Fountain had been awarded a $150,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund, an economic incentive fund set aside by the N.C. General Assembly.

The grant, to be paid in installments, was contingent on the boat manufacturer meeting certain performance targets, Crisco said.

The grant also depended on a local match of at least $150,000, according to a November 2010 news release from the office of Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Among Fountain’s returning employees is Chris Waters, who had been laid off for three months before being rehired.

Waters had been with Fountain for 14 years before the layoff.

“I enjoy working here,” he said, adding the pay is good, as is the company.

Waters said most of his former co-workers were given the opportunity to return to their former jobs.