Leaving rough seas astern, a builder is growing again

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A bit of good news from Cairo, Ga., where the Seminole Marine Group last week hired back its 100th employee.

Like many builders, Seminole was forced to significantly cut its work force of more than 200 production employees when the economy rolled over the cliff more than three years ago. So hitting the century mark represents a nice waypoint, tangible proof that things are getting better for the builder of Sailfish and SouthWind boats.

“It’s a milestone,” says Howard Libin, director of new business development for the builder. “We’re feeling that our fortunes are reversing again. We are shooting for 150 [production workers] by the high season, in April or May.”

One of the largest non-government employers in south Georgia, Seminole Marine Group was started in 1986 by Paul Hoppes, who still runs the company. Plant workers were notified of the latest hire by a memo in their paycheck, which included a raise, Libin says. As the season progresses, Seminole anticipates building about 120 boats a month over both brands.

Although economic uncertainty still has consumers holding back on discretionary purchases, Libin told me, “The yearning to have a boat is intrinsic. It’s been part of man since the beginning of time. It’s latent.”

He continued: “Think about it. The Phoenicians, as soon as they could get in the water, they went.”

Libin is right. We have the clay, the raw materials, the sun, wind, water and sky that will continue to attract and capture new boaters and hold existing ones, especially once the turbulence in the economy settles out.

In the meantime, Seminole is working on new product and moving forward. “Tight budgets make people smarter,” Libin said of today’s boat buyer. “He’s looking for versatility. He’s looking for value. He’s looking for durability. We have the right product at the right time. The best buy by the cubic inch.”

Leadership helped the company make it through the toughest period and get to the point where it is growing again.

“Many people would have given up, but Paul understands it will come back,” Libin says. “With him, it’s not just a business. Paul is passionate. He’s the first one in and the last one out. Paul Hoppes has more boats to design.”

The Phoenicians would have understood.