In an old industrial building where Wellcraft once made the Scarab cigarette boats made famous on 1980s TV show “Miami Vice,” the centerpiece these days is a giant robotic router.
As reported by the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald Tribune, the four-legged mechanical monster sprawls over a 20-foot-long chunk of high-density foam that will ultimately define the deck of a freshly designed yacht.
The current activity stands in stark contrast to recent years, and is a potent symbol of how far the region’s boat building industry — one of Southwest Florida’s most important historic drivers — has come.
Throughout the Great Recession and its aftermath, from 2009 until last year, the old Wellcraft complex — 35 acres and 350,000 square feet of buildings — stood empty. Its parent company had moved operations to Michigan.
Along with Chris-Craft Corp., which furloughed the remainder of a shrunken workforce in late 2008, and Donzi Marine, which pulled up stakes for North Carolina in 2010, the empty Wellcraft complex stood as a powerful reminder of the demise of local boat building.
“Chris-Craft and Wellcraft were definitely big production guys,” said Wylie Nagler, the founder and head of the Bradenton-based Yellowfin Yachts, which has emerged as a major player regionally.
“There were a lot of vendors that they kept alive,” he added. “When they plummeted, a lot of those guys went out of business.”
Before the economic downturn began in 2007, boat building accounted for roughly 2,000 direct paychecks in the region. Today, it’s about a quarter that figure.
Countless others, from teak deck makers to welders to electrical system outfitters, got hammered as well.
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