Cadillac Hopes Boat Market Improves

Apr 29, 2010

The City of Cadillac hopes to see the motor boat business bounce back this summer. One of its big employers, Four Winns, has a new owner, and it's begun calling back laid off workers.

The parent company is even moving another boat brand to Cadillac, Glastron.

Reports about tax incentives being offered by the state suggest thousands of new jobs could result. But for that to happen, more people are going to need to be buying boats. 

New Boat In Town
Glastron boats have a colorful past. The company made the Batboat for the 1960s Batman television series. It also made the speedboats James Bond drove through some very cool and improbable chases.

Now Glastron is the new kid in Cadillac. It will share a factory with Four Winns boats, a local mainstay since 1976.

"Since the news is out that Glastron is being produced locally, it's going to expand that market for us," says Doug Clemens of Long Lake Marina in Interlochen. "We've been working on growing the name and this will certainly help with name recognition."

But local pride is not likely to sell many boats beyond Michigan. Elsewhere, the brands may have to prove themselves after being caught up in bankruptcy, says the editor of Boating World Magazine Alan Jones.

"They've got a bit of an uphill battle because I guess the normal perception would be they're in trouble and they're not sure about the folks that have bought them out," he says. 

New Owner
The new owner is Platinum Equity of California.  It was 27th among Forbes magazine's largest private companies in America last year. Flint native Tom Gores founded the company, which acquires communications, technology and auto-related industries.

Gores and his brother Alec are currently bidding on Disney's Miramax Films.

Jones says any prospective customers that look into the company ought to be reassured by what is known about Platinum Equity.

"They have a tradition of buying only good companies," Jones says. "They're not really a slash-and-burn company where they'll just spin off a bunch of the assets and then sell the rest for what they can get.

"I think these brands stand a really good chance of coming out looking really good."  

Optimism
Cadillac has a deep hole to climb out of. The workforce at Four Winns had sunk to about one-fifth what it once was. More than 100 workers have been called back in recent weeks and more are expected when Glastron moves in later this spring. Jones thinks there is reason to expect the recovery of jobs to continue.

"Right now, the dealer inventory is at its lowest point ever in the history of boating, and those dealers are going to be running out of boats pretty soon. Once the economy comes back, I think there's going to be a strong demand for these products," he says.

Like other sectors of the economy the availability of credit has been a problem for the recreational boat industry. Loans aren't as easy to come by as they once were, though that picture is improving, says Mark McAllister of Dewitt Marine on Torch Lake.

"Financing is very available. It wasn't last year, but it is this year. There is money out there for folks who have good credit," he says.