Arkadelphia boat plant to close; Alumacraft’s exit surprises officials

90 people to lose jobs

Alumacraft Boat Co. in Arkadelphia will be shut down in June by its Canada-based owner, putting 90 people out of work and ending a 46-year history in the town.

The closing of the factory, known for its production of flat-bottom aluminum jon boats, was a tie-in to the decision by its owner, BRP of Valcourt, Quebec, to halt production of Evinrude outboard motors. BRP, also known as Bombardier Recreational Products, announced that decision Wednesday afternoon.

Boat production in Arkadelphia will end in mid-June and will be shifted to a BRP facility in St. Peter, Minn., the company said.

"We were really surprised," Stephen Bell, president and chief executive officer of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, said Thursday morning. "They'd been talking about a possible expansion. It's been a fixture in the community for years and years."

BRP bought the Aluma­craft and Manitou boat companies in the U.S. in 2018 and Australian boat manufacturer Telwater in 2019.

Alumacraft was founded in 1946 and used "Queen of the Waterways" as one of its several advertising slogans over the years. It came to Arkadelphia in 1974 with the purchase of General Marine Corp., according to Aluma­craft's website.

The Arkadelphia plant also produced modified V boats, or those with pointed bows, such as bass and bay boats, BRP said.

"They've been a good corporate citizen," Bell said of Alumacraft's longevity. "In the global economy, things happen outside our control. We're disappointed with the news. Alumacraft has long had a great workforce with a great work ethic here."

In January 2007, Alumacraft announced a 16,000-square-foot expansion of its plant on 10th Street in Arkadelphia, just north of downtown. The expansion would boost production by 50%, the company said. The Arkadelphia plant produced more than 11,000 boats in 2006; an update on its production wasn't available Thursday.

Ed Springer, who's been with Arts Marine in North Little Rock for 50 of the business's 64 years, said Alumacraft boats have always been popular.

Arts currently sells Alumacraft's line of bass boats.

The primary effect of Alumacraft's closing in Arkadelphia on Arts Marine is on small orders, Springer said.

"I've been able to run down to Arkadelphia and pick one up, if they had one fresh off the line that I needed," Springer said.

That won't happen with the move to Minnesota: He'll be ordering by the truckload, six boats at a time, Springer said.

"We've always liked the people there," Springer said. "We've always had good luck with those folks and their parts department. They had a small-state feel more than the larger, older brands did."

BRP cited the coronavirus pandemic's effect on the sale of Evinrude boat motors for its decision affecting Arkadelphia.

"Our outboard engines business has been greatly impacted by COVID-19, obliging us to discontinue production of our outboard motors immediately," Jose Boisjoli, president and chief executive officer of BRP, said in a news release. "This business segment had already been facing some challenges and the impact from the current context has forced our hand."

BRP bought Wisconsin-based Evinrude out of bankruptcy in 2001. It said Wednesday that it has signed a deal with Mercury Marine, based in Mettawa, Ill., for production of outboard motors. BRP said it will retain the Evinrude brand name and trademark. Evinrude was founded in 1907 in Milwaukee.

BRP said it "plans to position itself to expand its presence in the pontoon and aluminum fishing markets through technologically advanced solutions." BRP said it will continue to supply customers and dealers with service parts, honor manufacturer limited warranties and offer programs to manage inventory.

BRP, which is publicly traded, has worldwide operations employing 12,600 people and produces products under such brands as Sea-Doo, Lynx, Alumacraft, Manitou, Evinrude and Rotax. It has annual sales of more than $6.1 billion, the company said.

For the quarter ending Jan. 31, BRP reported a profit of $48.8 million, up 14.6% from the same period a year earlier. Revenue increased by $110 million for the same period.

BRP's Marine Division, which included the Arkadelphia facility, reported revenue of $157.4 million for the quarter that ended Jan. 31, up 17.8% from the report of Jan. 31, 2019.

The pandemic has delayed release of the company's full-year guidance for fiscal 2021.

BRP stock on Nasdaq closed Thursday at $35.50, down $1.53.

A Section on 05/29/2020

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