Larson Boat Group will shut its Little Falls factory early next year and relocate the work five hours away to its sister plant in Pulaski, Wis., as part of a cost-saving move affecting 114 Minnesota workers, company officials confirmed this week.
The 100-year-old boat builder said it will stop producing its Triumph boats all together but will relocate the production of its Larson, Larson FX, Larson Escape and Striper models to Pulaski, 20 miles northwest of Green Bay. The move is expected to begin before April.
Between its two locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Larson has made 59 models of pontoons, 18- to 23-foot runabouts, express cruisers and fresh and saltwater boats.
Company CEO Rob Parmentier said in an e-mail that the decision to move to Wisconsin was due to global and “adverse economic dynamics and shifting changes within the marine market that require us to consolidate our company’s operations and footprint with our sister organization in Pulaski.”
Industry conditions were particularly challenging for stern drive products and in Canada, where Larson has a substantial customer base, he said.
Carol Anderson, executive director of Community Development of Morrison County, said Larson has managed to hang on through three critical events: the brutal Great Recession, the 2009 bankruptcy filing of then parent firm Genmar Holdings Inc., and the subsequent sale of the Little Falls boat plant in 2010 from Genmar to businessman Irwin Jacobs and a partner.
The struggling boat maker, originally bought by the inventory-liquidation guru, Jacobs, in 1977, came back to life after 2010 with the help of state and federal loans. It has struggled lately with international sales because of the high U.S. dollar.
“When you look at what happened with the Great Recession and the entire boat industry, many did not survive. Larson has been able to survive, but it’s still a hard market,” Anderson said. “When the value of our dollar is so strong, it’s hard to sell products outside the country.”
Consolidating the manufacturing in Wisconsin should cut expenses and help Larson survive even longer, company officials said.
Parmentier said he is offering jobs to all affected workers at the Pulaski plant. And Larson is hoping to sell the Little Falls site to another company that will hire employees opting not to relocate.
“Although we are shutting down Larson Boat Group in Little Falls, we are actively discussing win-win solutions for our employees,” Parmentier said. “We are currently discussing the sale of the property with a large multinational manufacturer that could very much offer our employees’ jobs.”
“I am extremely optimistic about how this will turn out long term,” said Mayor Greg Zylka. “I think it will be a great benefit to the community.”
The manufacturer considering buying the Larson plant does not make boats and would not immediately employ 114 people there, officials said. However, staffing needs are expected to exceed 114 people in five years.
“The five-year projection is pretty exciting,” said Zylka, who worked at the Larson plant wiring motors years ago out of high school.
When it comes to seeing the plant repurposed, “I am very optimistic, but cautiously optimistic,” he said. “There is always a chance that this could go south on us. But [it’s apparent from talks] that the prospective buyers love the facility. It’s a perfect fit, and we have things here that they say they can’t find elsewhere.”
Zylka said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will review plans, and he hopes to have some news to share with the public in a month.
Before moving, Parmentier said, Larson will pay off the remaining $190,500 balance on a $500,000 loan from Little Falls Economic Development Authority. The company is also repaying the rest of a $500,000 loan that was originally made through the state’s Minnesota Investment Fund.
Anderson, the community development head who put together both loan financing packages for Larson back in 2010, said the company is “absolutely current with all their loans. They never missed a payment, and they have assured us that they will settle all the loans before they leave.”
The company considering buying the Little Falls property is expected to be offered modest incentives, Anderson said. “What we are looking at is putting some training money together and maybe some tax abatements. They have not indicated that they need any big loan packages like Larson did.”