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Watertown manufacturer eyes expansion

Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 3:21 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A manufacturer of metal boats is looking to expand, to grow its workforce from 26 to 40 or 50 “over the next couple of years.”

MetalCraft Marine is a Canadian company, headquartered in KIngston, but does much of its manufacturing at the Jefferson County Industrial Park off outer Coffeen Street.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to grow our business with our existing customers, and I think there’s customers that we haven’t tapped yet,” Michael Allen, the company’s general manager told a reporter this week.

MetalCraft makes boats out of aluminum, for jobs like fighting fires, responding to oil spills or chasing drug smugglers.

“They go fast and they perform in very, very challenging seas,” Allen said.

MetalCraft’s latest contract, with the U.S. Navy, has the company producing 20 boats a year for five years. It’s a lot of boats for a small workforce, but inside the shop, what you see is the furthest thing from an assembly line.

Every boat is the result of thousands of hours of hand-crafting, from welding to wiring to polishing. It can take anywhere from two months to a year and a half to turn out a finished boat.

MetalCraft makes the boats, and buys the rest of what’s needed - engines from Volvo, for instance, or closer to home, the covering for each boat comes from a one man shop in Clayton, Boss Canvas.

(MetalCraft does as much business as it can with local suppliers, like Haun Welding, and recently got a machine to make small parts in-house, rather than buy them. Allen says it cut waiting time for the parts from weeks to hours.)

“The work is very much a craft, very much an art in craft form. We do a lot of welding, a lot of manual electrical work, wiring, so it’s very much a craftsmanship,” Allen said.

The job pays; Allen said a $26 an hour salary is typical. Yet finding people who can do the work - and want to do it - is challenging.

“I would add 10 people really quickly if I could find them. And I think that’s just the beginning. We could probably double our labor force to 40 or 50 over the next couple of years,” Allen said.

Right now, about half of MetalCraft’s workforce on this side of the border is retired military, something that Allen says has worked out well.

But going forward, the company is looking to forge partnerships with Jefferson Community College and with local high school and vocational programs.

“We’re pulling from the region. We find people in this community are very dedicated. That’s a real plus,” Allen said.

“Not too many of them have boat building experience. That’s ok with us - we’ll train them. You show up for work, have a good work ethic, get along with people, that’s great.”

The company is looking for people like Gary Thayer of Clayton, who has worked for MetalCraft for the last three and a half years, and expects to be with the company for many more.

“It’s hard to find a company that treats its employees right and does what’s asked of them,” Thayer explained.

“We’ve got great people who work here, great managers, and as long as we keep signing contracts and we keep putting out boats, I see myself here for a long time.”

Allen sees continued growth. He said the company is up for “a very large contract that we’re extremely optimistic about.”

And he sees opportunities selling boats retail, to ordinary people. He likens the boats to trucks, vehicles built for work - even though some of what MetalCraft now builds can get up to speeds of 80 miles per hour.

The one thing that won’t happen: lay-offs. MetalCraft weathered the pandemic without job cuts.

“We don’t lay people off because we believe in them,” Allen said

“ Without them, we could not build anything. With them, we can build the best boats in the world.”

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