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Seaswirl to close Culver plant

by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - Seaswirl Boats, of Culver, will close down at the end of April, when 170 employees will lose their jobs.


   The news of the imminent closure of Seaswirl Boats Inc. last week brought tears, sadness and disbelief to many of the 170 people who work for Culver's largest employer.
   "It came as a shock to everybody," said Curt Olson, Seaswirl president until last Tuesday, when he retired after 19 years with the company.
   Genmar Holdings Inc., headquarted in Minneapolis, Minn., sent three representatives to make the announcement to employees at the Culver plant Feb. 27. The employees' final day will be April 28.
   The company is consolidating operations into its Little Falls, Minn. facilities, according to Roger R. Cloutier II, president and chief operating officer of Genmar.
   The consolidation effort began in November, when the company laid off nine administrative employees, as Seaswirl sales, marketing, customer service and administrative activities were relocated to Genmar's Sarasota, Fla., facilities and offices. Another 30 employees were laid off in late December.
   "Seaswirl's Culver, Ore., facility has been a very effective manufacturing facility since Genmar acquired the company in 2001, and its employee group has been extremely loyal," Cloutier said. "However, we are continually pursuing various initiatives within the organization."
   "It recently became clear that moving most of Seaswirl's manufacturing operations to Little Falls, Minn., will strengthen even more significantly Seaswirl Boats, the Saltwater Fishing Boat Group and Genmar, as an organization," he said.
   For over three decades, the company has been one of the county's larger employers and taxpayers. In 2006, Seaswirl was number eight on the list of the top taxpayers, paying $116,916.31 on an assessed value of $5.35 million.
   As recently as a year ago, Seaswirl had 275 employees, but cuts were made in April, November and December. "It's been seasonal, as well as cyclical," said Olson.
   Prior to the cuts made last year, employment had remained stable for about 13 years. "From 1993 to 2006, we ran with a steady work force of about 250," he said.
Over half a century
   

   Seaswirl traces its beginnings to Highway Products Inc., of Canby, the first fiberglass boat manufacturer on the West Coast. Starting in 1955, Highway Products produced the P-13, P-14, and P-15 boats -- renamed Seaswirl -- and was sold to Bob Trent in 1967. Trent moved the business to the Culver location in 1971, calling it Bramco, according to Olson.
   In 1987, Trent sold the business to Outboard Motor Corp. Although Seaswirl remained profitable, OMC filed for bankruptcy in December of 2000. Genmar purchased all 13 of OMC's boat companies, including Seaswirl, in Feburary of 2001, and the Culver facility reopened.
   "During that time frame, 35 employees maintained their jobs to protect the assets," said Olson, adding that when the company reopened in March of 2001, all but two employees contacted returned to work.
   Since the company announced its closure, Olson said he has received numerous calls inquiring about workers.
   "Many companies are coming forward and offering positions to the displaced work staff because they know of the talents and competency of the Seaswirl employees," he said. "It's nice to see those getting jobs, and I would anticipate that the others would get jobs shortly."
   Even though Seaswirl has been one of the more profitable divisions over the years, the closure is understandable, Olson said, "because most marine manufacturers around the country have excess plant capacity and are consolidating their manufacturing operations."
   "The main reason Seaswirl is being moved is to get manufacturing closer to the retail customer," he explained. "Seventy percent of our volume goes to the East Coast of the United States."
   Cloutier, who praised Olson's work at the company, said he was offered a position in Sarasota, but chose instead to retire. "He's been a terrific president for Genmar; he's done a great job," he said.
   Some other employees will be offered the opportunity to relocate to Little Falls, Minn. -- located about 90 minutes northwest of Minneapolis -- Sarasota, or one of Genmar's other facilities. "We've got some skilled workers there, and we certainly would like to see some move," Cloutier said.
   For those who decide not to move, he said, "We have work for everybody for the next 60 days -- obviously different work as we get close to the end."
   Culver Mayor Dan Harnden, formerly the project management coordinator for Seaswirl, commiserates with those who will lose their jobs when Seaswirl closes. After more than 26 years with the company, Harnden was one of the administrators whose jobs were eliminated in November.
   "The first day, I was numb; I didn't know what to think," he said. "The second day, the reality hit: I didn't have a job."
   Harnden doesn't blame the company for the consolidation. "There was no one to blame. It was a corporate decision. That's always the way it is when you downsize."
   The company had given employees two weeks' notice that there would be layoffs.
   "You knew somebody was going to lose their job, but you didn't know who," he said, recalling the stressful interim. "What was nice was when I left there, my blood pressure dropped."
   Since then, Harnden has been looking for a job. "I had to learn to do resum‚s and job searching," he said.
   After nearly 20 years with the company, Marilyn Dillon, of Culver, was also laid off from her position as traffic coordinator in November, and has yet to find another job.
   "I was the only one of the nine that didn't get a severance package," she said.
   Dillon has spoken to employees who lost their jobs in December, and others who will be affected by the coming closure.
   "They're just very angry at Genmar," she said. "Some of them are real disenchanted at this point; I don't think a lot of them have found jobs at this point. This little town is going to be really hurting."
   She continued, "A lot of the people who are going to be leaving, or have left, were part of the company for many years, so they're sad and mad that a company can up and leave after many years of service. There are quite a few bitter people out there."
   As mayor, Harnden is hopeful that Culver can find another large employer to take Seaswirl's place, and offer opportunities to all the displaced workers. The city still has Earth2O, Round Butte Seed, and Opal Springs.
   "We have to go on," he said. "I'm not sure exactly what Genmar is going to do with the property, but if they're interested in selling it, we have buyers."
   Nevertheless, the loss of the company will affect the community. "There is going to be an impact -- probably more emotional than anything," said Harnden. "It was an icon. It changed a spud cellar into a manufacturing plant."