FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — It does not take an Alan Greenspan to sift through the economic slowdown and its effect on the marine industry.
"When people pay more money every time they turn on their lights, or see their stocks fall, it's easy to understand," said Tomas Loebel, chief executive officer of marine goods supplier Daytona Plastix Inc. of Daytona Beach, Fla. "We just don't worry about it very much."
Loebel's company, a maker of plastic decorative and trim parts, echoed the views of many processors at the International Boatbuilders' Exhibition & Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 7-9.
The companies continue to forge ahead with new products. And while some companies had expansion plans put in cold storage until the slowdown eases, they still expect to grow.
"We'd like to expand, but we want to wait until things ease up some," said David Trout, president of thermoformer Paragon Plastics Inc. of Cocoa, Fla. "We'll stay fairly small for now."
Still, Trout's young business has grown during the past several years, as the rising tide has lifted many processors. New boat sales have increased steadily along with consumer disposable income, according to figures from the Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Association.
But that is changing slightly. Many processors at the Fort Lauderdale show expected small-boat sales to dip in 2001.
Some ripples have hit the surf. In November, Waukegan, Ill.-based Outboard Marine Corp., known as OMC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company was the country's third-largest boat builder, making such brands as Chris-Craft, Javelin and Four Winns and recording $461.1 million in 1999 sales.
Many plastics companies were left in the lurch. Marine resin supplier Ashland Chemical Inc. lost more than $1 million in payments due, according to sources, while many processors also could not recoup money for product delivered to OMC.
Recent developments could restore optimism. In bidding completed in February, a court approved the sale of OMC's boat operations to Little Falls, Minn.-based Genmar Holdings Inc. and its engine division to Bombardier Inc. of Montreal.
OMC's financial distress led to layoffs and plant closures at several facilities, including a nearly complete shuttering of Sarasota, Fla.-based Chris-Craft Boats.
Genmar sold Chris-Craft in early March to London-based investment house Stellican Ltd., said Genmar spokesman George Sullivan. Stellican currently is deciding the fate of Chris-Craft's Sarasota location, he added.
Injection molder PlasForm Co. Inc. was one of many companies that lost money to the OMC bankruptcy. But the 25-employee Elora, Tenn.-firm will weather the storm, said President Glenn Huskey.
"Of course, we'd be one of the last to get paid," Huskey said. "But we're focusing on building the business again with [Genmar]."
Many processors at the Fort Lauderdale show said business has been off by 4-5 percent since December. Some companies blamed the downturn on negative media coverage and economic forecasts.
"We don't want to focus on all the negative that's been written," said Larry Paulson, president of Image Rotomolding Enterprises Inc. of Brainerd, Minn. "Our business is strong, and I don't think the downturn will last that long or be that dramatic."
Many companies are attempting to jump-start new approaches to fight a slowdown. Thermoformer Tecla Co. Inc. of Walled Lake, Mich., is using computer numerically controlled computer technology to build tooling for seating components.
The process, started last year, helps Tecla automate tooling instead of crafting it by hand, a process that had bogged down work in the past, President Dick Clark said of the 104-year-old company. Now, tools can be made quickly for prototypes or finished parts.
"It's changed the equation," he said. "We can bring products to machines in the work place, without having to wait to work through design issues first."