Excel Boats, which manufactures in Mountain View, just seventy miles north of Little Rock, Arkansas, is much more than your average business. This company is a great believer in its products and its employees. It has been in the industry for over a decade and is the premier manufacturer of tough, affordable, well-designed, aluminum boats for recreational enthusiasts including waterfowlers – particularly those hunting in shallow, marshy areas – fishermen, and others who love the great outdoors and all it has to offer.
The story of Excel Boat is one of vision and unwavering determination. The company was founded by Chief Executive Officer Glenn D. Foreman. He is also the owner of successful motor company Mud Buddy, Excel’s sister company. Glenn was approached by dealers for a boat engineered to pair with the Mud Buddy motor. The decision was then made to manufacture boats that could also be sold through the dealer network.
Foreman found Rivertrail, an aluminum boat manufacturer based in Clinton, Arkansas, which soon began making boats for the company. All went well until a tornado struck Clinton in February 5th and 6th of 2008. As it coincided with twenty-four U.S. states holding primary elections, the devastating weather event came to be known as the Super Tuesday tornado outbreak.
Much of Clinton was destroyed, and the Rivertrail manufacturing facility was flattened. “One of our Excel boats was found in a pasture thirty miles away, sticking nose down, like when you stick a knife into a board,” says the company’s Business Operations Manager J. Paul Jackson. “It was horrific.”
To make matters worse, Excel was left without a manufacturer when the owner of the wrecked facility decided not to rebuild, leaving it with the need for boats, but no one to make them.
Fortunately, in neighbouring Mountain View, Arkansas, what had once been the 40,000-square-foot Blanchard shirt factory sat empty and was available. Seizing the opportunity, Excel Boats moved in and began production in 2009.
Demand grew, and the company decided it needed to expand. It created a plan, but realized that even with the expansion, it would soon be at capacity again. It was unable to grow in Mountain View because it would exhaust the employment base. The only option was a second location.
J. Paul Jackson was brought in to help Mr. Foreman find the right place for this second manufacturing facility. Jackson is a big believer in the company, and his business relationship with Excel goes back several years. After he and his dog won the gold medal in 2004 in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games’ retriever trials he began working in outdoor television. In 2011, while hosting a popular hunting series, he took on advertising on TV and in print for Excel. In addition to being project manager for the new location, Jackson has also been entrusted with oversight of the Mountain View expansion.
After narrowing the search down to two locations in Tennessee, the company selected Lake County in late March of this year. On April 30, Excel members and a number of officials including Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Commissioner Bob Rolfe from the Department of Economic and Community, County Mayor Denny Johnson, and Ridgely Mayor Steve Jones were on hand to announce the $9 million investment in Excel’s new manufacturing facility in Ridgely, a rural town adjacent to the city limits.
For Excel, the need to create a second facility is about more than business; it is about changing lives for the better. Tennessee’s Lake County is the poorest in the state and one of twenty-five poorest counties in the nation. By bringing in almost two hundred well-paying jobs with benefits, the company will be tremendously helping a community that needs a chance and creating a greatly improved quality of life for future Excel workers, their families, and Tennessee.
With a contract on the property, the project has received numerous commitments for grant money, including the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development’s commitment letter for the factory and the land on which it will be built. In total, over $3 million in assistance from rural development partners such as the local government, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), the Gibson Electric Membership Cooperative – the local electricity provider that receives its power from TVA – and the Tennessee Department of Transportation is helping Excel expand.
Another important consideration for the company was the new market tax incentive program as part of the financing package. “That was a big deciding factor for us also,” states Jackson. “Being a distressed community, Lake County lies within a new market tax credit incentive program census tract, and that it made possible for us to partner with a community development entity. We should realize between $2.5 and $2.9 million of benefit from that program.”
Excel is aiming to close financing by late July and break ground in early August. It wants to be operational by the beginning of the second quarter of 2019.
The building footprint is laid out and a basic building is planned for the roughly 100,000-square-foot build on a twenty-five-acre site. Including capital investment and infrastructure such as roads and equipment, the project will come in at about $11 million.
The company anticipates hiring 193 people in Tennessee, and J. Paul Jackson was the first, “so we’ve got 192 to go!” he says, voice full of pride. While there are plenty of logistical challenges ahead – and the need for the company to stick to the five-year commitment it made to the state to secure the $1.25 million in ECD grant money – Jackson is extremely confident in the future of Excel and the can-do attitude of locals.
“We’ve got to hit within eighty percent of that to avoid any type of repayment on the grant, and given our current climate, we don’t see that as being an issue at all,” says Jackson. “I anticipate, within sixty months, we will have well over two hundred employees at this facility.”
The site will manufacture five types of boats, including the new 230 Bay Pro and Storm Cat series, which will be expanded. Boats vary from seventeen feet to twenty-four feet in length. The company is seeking to make even larger vessels up to twenty-six or twenty-eight feet in its Tennessee facility.
The Excel Boat Company is known for products that are tough, spacious, intelligently designed, and offer maximum comfort for outdoor recreation buffs. Customers can choose from quality factory-installed motors from Mud Buddy, Yamaha, Mercury, Suzuki, Evinrude, and Minn Kota. Although most of its sales today are in the southeastern United States, Excel has dealers all around North America, including Alaska.
Over the last two years, the company has worked on expanding its social media presence. It initiated a marketing campaign on Facebook last September and ballooned from 14,000 followers to 36,000. The company is actively increasing its Instagram following, and has the professional staff to assist with that endeavour. It re-tooled and expanded its website, acquired the www.excelboats.com domain, and continues to post videos on its YouTube channel.
For Jackson, the growth and success of Excel Boats is both business and personal. He was born in Dyersburg, just twenty miles from the location of the new factory, and is thrilled by the many advantages the business will bring.
“It is tremendous to me,” he says. “As a native son of this area of Northwest Tennessee, I take a great deal of pride in that I am able to be the lead person in a project that is going to benefit my area of the country. Personally, I am very excited about the fact that we’re going to Lake County, and we are specifically going to be adjacent to the community of Ridgely.”
Jackson says that the new project is as much regional as it is local and praises the local governments for their involvement and vision. “I am so happy that I am able to bring a company that I am invested in, that I believe in, to my part of the world to benefit this area. We are a very successful growing company based on partnerships all along the way, whether it’s with the local community, with the state, or with our suppliers or dealers. We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve sought out and cultivated relationships with people, entities, and other companies that have helped us continue our success, and that’s a model that we thoroughly intend to continue in the future as well.”