Fishing-boat manufacturer to expand into Georgia, keep headquarters here
By Eric Kalis
Fishing-boat manufacturer Contender Boats is expanding from its base in Homestead to a new high-tech production plant in Baxley, GA, though the company will keep its headquarters and current workforce in south Miami-Dade County.
Contender Boats plans to spend $12 million in the next five years to renovate a 130,000-square-foot facility on a 25-acre site in Baxley previously used to build mobile homes.
Production at the new plant is expected to start early next year, said Bob Blank, general counsel for Contender Boats. The company intends to double its overall production in five years, he said.
Contrary to a November 2005 press release issued by the Georgia Department of Economic Development saying that Contender Boats would move the bulk of its operations to Baxley, company officials say the 80,000-square-foot Homestead plant, which produces 500 boats per year, will continue to be its headquarters.
"The message we are trying to get across is that we are not moving out of South Florida," Mr. Blank said. "Opening a satellite facility in Baxley will allow us to grow. We have always had a strong South Florida presence, and that will continue."
The new plant is expected to generate about 100 jobs in its first year of operation, said Dale Atkins, chairman of the Southeast Georgia Regional Development Authority. He said the company plans to add 500 permanent jobs within five years.
Baxley, with a population of 4,150 in the 2000 Census, has had a noticeable increase of industrial activity in the past five years, Mr. Atkins said. "Contender is a world-recognized company that has done quite well," he said. "We want them to thrive and grow in Baxley."
Mike Richardson, president of the Vision Council, a non-profit economic development organization in South Dade, said none of the company's 250 employees in Homestead will move to Baxley. The Homestead plant produces boats between 21 and 36 feet long.
"We understand the impact on Homestead operations will be minimal," Mr. Richardson said. "This is not a move for Contender - it is a major expansion."
Keeping Contender in Homestead is vital to the revival of the city decimated in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew, Mr. Richardson said. The plant is in the Homestead Park of Commerce, a 270-acre industrial park in a Foreign Trade Zone that has had little development since the hurricane. City officials are negotiating a sale of part of the park to developer M&H Homestead to spark growth in the area.