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Pacific Marine Expo 2017: A Good Market For Fishing Boats, Passenger Ferries

November 20, 2017

By Bill Virgin | Washington Manufacturing Alert

No one’s calling it a boom, but Washington’s boatbuilding and marine equipment manufacturing sector appears to be healthy enough that investment is going into the industry itself as well as the products it produces, to judge from interviews at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle.

Ole Oksvold, a former Bristol Bay fisherman and vessel owner himself, purchased Bellingham’s Strongback Metal Boats Inc. from owner and founder Pat Pitsch, who is retiring. He’s also moving it to South Seattle.

Oksvold said Strongback, which specializes in vessels for West Coast fisheries, has one more boatbuilding slot to fill for 2018 delivery and is booking orders for 2019. The company has just four employees now, but is looking to add more as orders come in.

“The last couple of years have been pretty strong in Bristol Bay as far as price and fish harvest, and now you’re seeing an uptick in boat sales,” he said. The Alaskan fishery is “ a cycle, up and down, up and down. I wouldn't say it’s an up cycle. It’s a sustained cycle. But all it takes is one bad season to watch it go down again. I think it’s pretty strong right now.”

Another recent entrant to the business is Arlington-based FabTek Industries, which makes doors, windows, hatches and marine hardware. It was founded by Leon Colinas, a 23-year veteran of an Everett company that made similar products. When the owner of Pacific Coast Marine closed that location, Colinas decided to recruit fellow alumni of the company and go into business themselves.

FabTek specializes in heavy-duty customized fittings for boats 60 feet and longer; the company has its own ma-chine shop and designs to produce extrusions and hard-ware like hinges and handwheels.

Curtis 'Arne' Arnesen - Commercial Banking Team Leader
Curtis 'Arne' Arnesen - Commercial Banking Team Leader

Colinas said he’s now making products for customers like Delta Marine, Christensen, Westport, Dakota Creek and Nichols Brothers. “A lot of people in those places knew me from before as the guy who would come solve all the problems in their yard,” he said. Those local connections are a plus, but he’s hoping to expand FabTek’s geographic reach. “I’d like to get the Staten Island Ferry job,” one that would mean an order for about 900 windows.

The company is also diversifying its base of business to include not just fishing vessels and yachts but military work; FabTek has a project to make replacement windows with bulletproof glass for the Navy.

Arne Arnesen, senior vice president and commercial maritime lending manager for Peoples Bank’s Ballard office, said the strength of order for fishing vessels is “a barometer of health in fisheries. What does it take to get a new-boat loan? You have to have money in the bank, and you have to have industry be optimistic about future prospects for that fishery.”

Peoples Bank has financed half a dozen new boats this year, a pace ahead of 2016. Read more...