Market rebounds for area boat builders

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OCONTO — Waters have been choppy for many boat and yacht builders since the onset of the Great Recession nearly five years ago.

But builders that weathered the economic downturn are optimistic as the industry makes headway with increasing sales.

“The domestic market is definitely on the rebound,” said Mark Pedersen, president of KCS International Inc. “I think you’re seeing a lot of the used boat market cleaned up and new product is now what consumers are looking for.”

KCS International builds boats and yachts under the Cruisers, Rampage and Azure names

The Azure line — which KCS bought in February and moved from South Carolina to Oconto — rolled the first Wisconsin-produced boat off the production early last week.

With the addition of the Azure line, the company offers boats and yachts ranging from 22 to 59 feet.

The Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Association says retail sales of boats are growing for the first time in five years. It estimated the industry saw an 80 percent reduction in production in 2009.

“It’s a lot less bumpy than it was,” Pedersen said about the market outlook. “You still have your worldwide economy issues with what’s going on in Europe and how that affects the stock market and consumer confidence, but overall we feel 10 times better than we did two years ago about the marketplace.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by yacht builder Burger Boat Co. in Manitowoc.

“Around the first of the years things started to rebound and we’ve had the best inquiries we’ve had in the last several years,” said Ron Cleveringa, vice president of sales and marketing with Burger. “These are folks who have been looking to purchase a vessel for quite some time and are feeling a little more confident in the marketplace and the economy.”

Burger generally produces two to three yachts a year, but that number can move based on the size and type of vessels the company is working on.

“We continue to see the right kind of activity that leads us to believe we’re going to have several new contracts coming up in the very near future,” Cleveringa said.

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