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Crystal River boat maker lays off 67

After a year of expansion, Pro-Line Boats has laid off 67 employees, bringing the Crystal River boat manufacturer's work force back down to 220. Company president Ken Hall said boat dealers have not canceled orders, but have asked Pro-Line to delay construction of new boats because of the uncertain economic situation.

Dealers are being cautious as fuel prices rise with the continuing Iraq crisis and Congress considers a luxury tax on expensive boats in the wrangling over the federal budget.

"It was a soft market to begin with," Hall said, but Pro-Line could have avoided layoffs if Iraq and the budget crisis hadn't happened. Some other boat makers already laid off workers earlier this year, he said Monday.

Of the 67 employees given pink slips last Wednesday, six were managers, including Crystal River City Council member Sid Kennedy, Hall said. Most of the workers had been with Pro-Line less than 120 days, he said.

"We were hiring people and building up for an increase, and this has put a hold on part of the increase," he said.

Pro-Line may rehire workers in February if boat sales pick up as they usually do from then through June, Hall said. Pro-Line will consider laid-off workers first, but Hall would not guarantee that they would be hired over new candidates.

Area boat dealers said sales have fallen off recently, but attributed that mainly to this being the slow time of year.

"I don't think it's anything drastic," said Diane Mason, owner of Homosassa Marine on U.S. 19. Her business does not sell Pro-Line boats.

A sales representative at Pioneer Marine Inc., a Pro-Line dealer in Tampa, said sales are a little lower than last year. But Al Fernandez said he thinks Pro-Line overplanned and wanted to trim some fat.

Pro-Line has been adding employees for the past year as Hall, who came to Pro-Line as president in March 1989, took the company into new markets on the Pacific Coast, in the Great Lakes region, and abroad.

Previously, the company's reach was limited to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts stretching from Texas to New Hampshire.

Sales were up 25 percent for the 1990 model year ending June 30, and orders for the 1991 year are up 24 percent, Hall said. But dealers do not have to take delivery on orders, he said.

Hall would not disclose sales figures for the privately held company.