Donzi, Pro-Line up and running in N.C.

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Reggie Fountain resigns shortly after operations shift from Florida to the Fountain plant

Production of Donzi and Pro-Line boats is ramping up at the brands' new location in the Fountain Powerboats plant on the Pamlico River in Washington, N.C., according to parent company Liberty Associates LC.

"It's gone pretty smoothly. I'm impressed with what they've been able to do so far," says John Walker, vice president and chief operating officer of Liberty, who spoke with Soundings Trade Only in late November as the first Donzi hull built at the new location, a 27 ZR, was moving down the production line. "We expect to have the relocation completely finished by the end of January."

About two weeks after Liberty announced the Donzi/ProLine relocation, Reggie Fountain, who founded Fountain Powerboats more than 30 years ago, announced his resignation.

"There are key differences in opinion and philosophy between the current owners and myself on how to run the company," he said in a Dec. 10 statement.

Fountain expressed a desire to "return to the custom, one-on-one roots I started with" when he launched the company in the late 1970s. Walker was named president and CEO of Fountain. He also was recently named president and CEO of Baja.

Donzi Marine and Pro-Line Boats closed their Florida plants in Sarasota and Crystal River and relocated to eastern North Carolina as a cost-saving and efficiency move by Liberty, which acquired the lines in 2009 and has since become majority owner of Fountain.

"When you have three facilities and you're at about 20 percent capacity at all three, it makes sense to consolidate them and take advantage of efficiencies," says Walker.

Fountain's 250,000-square-foot, 66-acre waterfront facility has been fully operational since the boatbuilder emerged from bankruptcy under Liberty ownership early in 2010.

North Carolina officials offered state and county economic grants worth up to $5.1 million over five years as incentives for the move, which Walker says played a part in the relocation but was not the deciding factor.

"The state of Florida was considerably more pro-business years ago, and that pro-business environment is not what it was," Walker says. "The Economic Development and Department of Commerce people in North Carolina were more aggressive and have been extremely accepting, but it was just a piece of the puzzle. I think it's going to be a good fit."

Maximizing the incentives requires meeting the agreed-upon projection of adding 400 jobs in the next five years. Walker estimates 75 to 80 employees lost their jobs in the move from Florida. He says the company is finding "good qualified candidates" in staffing the Washington plant.

Walker says the production management people for both Donzi and Pro-Line remain in their positions, and manufacturing will be consistent with each line. "The Donzis will be built by Donzi people, the Pro-Lines will be built by Pro-Line people and the Fountains by Fountain people," he says.

The shutdown of both lines for about six weeks to enable the move had a positive effect on the company, Walker says. "Of late, we have found considerable interest in the Pro-Line and Donzi lines and in that time established a pretty good backlog," he says.

Liberty has signed 16 new dealers in recent months and Walker says he is sensing an upturn in the market. "The dealers are nipping at me because they want their boats, which wasn't happening a while ago," he says.

Prepared to move on without Reggie Fountain, Liberty is confident enough in the recovery that it's relaunching the Baja brand that Brunswick sold to Fountain in 2008. Bajas will be also be built by their own dedicated work force at the Fountain plant.

"We feel that while Baja has been dormant, it doesn't take much to see how many Bajas are out there on rivers and lakes throughout the country," Walker says. "The people that own them are still there. They are some of the most loyal customers in all of high-

performance boating, and they're probably wondering what happened to their brand."

Walker says Baja historically was a strong performer in its segment. "We're confident we can recapture a healthy market share in that sector," he says.

Liberty is working on details of Baja's rebirth and expects the new line to be introduced in the spring.

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.

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