GARDINER ā€” When Southport Boats hits its stride this year in its new larger manufacturing space in South Gardiner, a new boat is expected to leave the facility every week.

That pace is expected to fulfill the company’s backlog of 50 outstanding orders and to meet the growing demand for its line of center console ocean fishing boats along the East Coast.

“It’s fun to build a high-end product, and we build a high-end product,” George Menezes, chief operating officer of Southport Boats, said Monday on the brightly lit manufacturing floor.

For Gardiner, whose history was built on manufacturing, the relocation of the company adds a layer of manufacturing back to the local economy.

“There are a lot of people in Gardiner who have the skills for that kind of work,” Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street and economic development coordinator for the city of Gardiner, said Monday.

“We’ve got this great manufacturing heritage in Gardiner and the space to do it in. When you look at the built space, there’s not a lot of job density that can happen without some kind of manufacturing process.”

The boat closest to completion is a 33-foot model, which will retail for between $350,000 and $380,000.

The company makes boats that range from 27 feet to 33 feet long. This year, it plans to add a new, larger model with a cabin that will be about 40 feet long.

This increase in both the number and kind of boats is being made possible by moving the boat building operation from Augusta at the end of 2017 to vacant warehouse space on River Road.

The expansion is the next step long-term plan which included the acquisition of Southport Boats, announced in August 2017, by Tuxedo Yachts, a holding company created to acquire luxury-oriented boat businesses.

“This space is 55,000 square feet,” Menezes said. “We were in about 15,000 square feet in the other building.”

Currently, the business has 45 total employees. The smaller space limited the company’s ability to expand its output, but with the larger space and the 10 additional employees that were brought on before the move and the 15 to 18 workers the company expects to hire this year, the production pace will pick up.

“In 2017, we built 28 boats,” Menezes said. “We could have built more, but we didn’t have the space. This year, we’ll build upwards of 50, and we have the sales to back it up. We have backlog that will take us through July. A lot of the boats are already paid for.”

Standing in the middle of the noise and activity on the manufacturing floor, Menezes said Southport has six to eight boats in different stages of production going on at any given time. A Southport boat takes six weeks to complete. The company uses an assembly line process, and between its two lines of boats, workers will complete one boat a week.

Southport boats are built by layering fiberglass fabric on a mold and infusing it with a resin in a vacuum to make the composite material hull and the internal support structure. The decks are made on a different mold using the same process. The boats are wired and fitted with speakers, electronics, a refrigerator and outboard motors and finished with upholstered benches and a composite canopy which is fitted to a frame that’s fabricated by another company.

“There’s a big investment in tooling, which are the molds,” Menezes said. “We build an actual-size hull just for the purpose of casting a mold, then we throw it away. Whenever we make a new model, we’ll spend between $300,000 to $800,000 on tooling, for the molds and the jigs and the fixtures.”

The second line the company produces is Carbon Craft luxury tenders; they were originally produced in Florida, but as part of the Southport acquisition, that operation relocated to Maine from the Tampa area. The tenders are made with a carbon fiber composite material. Menezes said they are designed to be light so they can easily be brought on board the megayachts they serve.

The decision to move that line to Maine stems from the cachet that a Maine-built boat has in the industry, said Menezes, who has worked in the industry for three decades.

Tuxedo Yachts acquired the boat builder five months after a Pennsylvania company, Creative Pultrusions Inc., acquired Kenway Corp., which owned Southport Boats.

Kenway, which had started in 1947 as Kenway Boats, started making wooden boats and eventually started producing fiberglass boats. Later, the company shifted its focus to producing a variety of corrosion-resistant and custom-fabricated components like pipes and tanks for industrial clients and opened a facility on Riverside Drive in Augusta.

Over the years, Kenway bought other companies that put it back in the boat-making business: the New Hampshire-based Maritime Skiff in 2007 and the North Carolina-based Southport Boatworks in 2011.

At the time of the Kenway sale, Ian Kopp, then company president, said Southport Boats LLC would continue to be owned by him and Kenneth Priest and Michael Priest. But as the companies grow, he said that business would likely be looking for a location in the greater Augusta area into which it could expand.

As they looked for investors, they instead found buyers.

When Menezes came to Southport four and a half years ago, he said there was a huge opportunity for the brand, and the goal was to assemble a team of people who could make the growth happen. Southport currently occupies only a small slice of the market, and there is potential to secure a larger share, he said.

One of the factors company officials considered in relocating was expandability. Being close to the river doesn’t matter, as the boats are moved to dealers via truck. But finding a space that could accommodate the current level of production and the expected additional production does matter.

“We can grow here. We can go two or three years, and we have the option to grow in this facility because there’s 33,000 square feet on the other side of the wall.”

Jessica Lowell ā€” 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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