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Gunboat’s reshoring attracts industry attention

Peter Johnstone’s decision to move Gunboat International’s operations from China to North Carolina in 2012 has not only endeared the brand to buyers, it has also caught the attention of the mainstream press.

A recent article in the Virginian-Pilot highlights the boatbuilder’s decision to relocate domestically, driven largely by the financial benefits of building in the United States, and how it has helped to revitalize the boatbuilding industry in North Carolina, which was hit hard by the recession, state officials said.

Gunboat received a state grant of $213,000 to create 71 jobs in three years, including a goal of 30 jobs in the first 12 months. The state doles out the grant as Gunboat meets hiring goals. Johnstone, who has hired 45 people, is well ahead of schedule and said he plans to hire an additional dozen or so workers by the end of the year.

Gunboat has been making catamarans since 2001, first at a plant in South Africa that has since been sold, then in China. Its 36,000-square-foot facility in Wanchese, Va., once owned by famed Outer Banks boatbuilder Buddy Davis, sat empty for about five years before Gunboat moved in.

Echoing an interview for an article written by Soundings Trade Only in 2012 about reshoring, Johnstone told the Virginian-Pilot that rising costs abroad are making the United States more attractive for builders. Though labor costs are low in China, it’s expensive to ship boats from there to the U.S. market, which makes up a large percentage of Gunboat’s sales.

Johnstone’s father and uncle founded J/Boats in 1977, a Newport, R.I., business still run by Johnstone and other family members. He considered moving Gunboat to his home area in Rhode Island, but property, utilities and labor costs were too high. Florida had similar obstacles. Then he turned to North Carolina, where state recruiters pointed him to Wilmington, Beaufort and Wanchese, all of which have a long boatbuilding history.

By next month, Johnstone expects to finish the first of eight 55-foot twin-hull sailboats due out in 2013. Each will cost just under $2 million. Plans are to begin building a 40-foot boat by next year. He expects to build 10 more catamarans in 2014.

Chris Grooby, a lawyer from Annapolis, Md., is awaiting his Gunboat and said the fact that it will be American-made appealed to him. “I’m proud to own a boat made in the U.S.A. and in North Carolina,” Grooby said.

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