BUCKSPORT, Maine — Two established Maine boat builders are forming a joint venture that could produce as many as 100 production boats a year if all goes according to plans.
Union River Boats in Bucksport and Lyman Morse of Thomaston hope to begin building the new design — 48-foot sailboats — for an undisclosed customer sometime next year.
The project will require a $1.25 million investment spread between the two companies, according to Belle Ryder, operations manager at Union River. The move comes during a slow time in the boat-building industry, a reflection of the national and global economic situation. But, Ryder said, their customer is confident that there is a market for the boats, and that the demand will grow to meet their projections.
“Our customer has a lot of experience,” Ryder said Friday. “Their projections were made based on a bad economy.”
“It’s a risk,” she added. “But it is a risk we think is worth taking.”
Union River has worked with Lyman Morse in the past and the joint venture offers an opportunity that the Bucksport company could not have taken on its own.
“We’d heard about the opportunity to build these boats for months, but it was too big for us to take on by ourselves,” Ryder said.
The venture calls for Union River to build the fiberglass hulls and other components at its Bucksport facility. In Thomaston, Lyman Morse will assemble those components, install interiors and add power, other systems and the rigging. It also will conduct sea trials.
Union River’s operation builds composite tooling, custom components, hulls and decks for some of Maine’s best-known boat builders. Lyman Morse has built its reputation building custom and semicustom boats. Representatives from Lyman Morse could not be reached Friday afternoon.
Both companies are investing in the project and also will seek grant funding that would provide revenues during the start-up time before they begin selling the boats. On Thursday, Bucksport town councilors authorized the town manager to submit an application for a $100,000 CDBG Business Assistance Grant through the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development.
The companies also will seek additional grant funding to cover some of the start-up costs and plan to seek funds through the North Star Grant to provide any training for new or rehired employees.
Union River downsized its work force earlier this year, and the project will give the company an opportunity to hire back employees, Ryder said. The company cut the work force from a high of 29 employees down to the current level of nine earlier this year because of a lack of work from its customers.
If all the projections work as planned, Union River would be back to the 29-employee level by the end of 2010 just with this project alone. Ryder said the company is working on other projects, including the recently announced joint venture with Canadian boat builder Rosborough Boats. Rosborough will design and market the rigid-hull inflatable boats that will be built at Union River. The boat is designed for use by the military, but, according to Bucksport’s economic development director, David Milan, U.S. regulations require that the boats used by the military be built in the country.
The Lyman Morse joint venture will start slowly, but Ryder said that by the fifth year production could reach as many as 100 boats annually. That level of production would require 50 employees at the Union River Boats facility.
If all goes well, Union River will begin the tooling process — building the new forms for the hull and other components — sometime in March or April, and deliver the first hull to Lyman Morse in July or August. On that schedule, the first hull would be launched in the spring of 2010.