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Pro-Line receives a hearty greeting

Members of the Citrus Springs Civic Association expect the new boat factory to be a boon.

When Johnny Walker met with his soon-to-be neighbors Wednesday night, he admitted there would be noise, dust and hundreds of cars coming and going once he moved in.

That's because Walker won't be coming alone. The vice president of manufacturing for Pro-Line Boats will bring with him a boat-building factory that will open in the next year or so on 25 acres just south of Citrus Springs.

The members of the Citrus Springs Civic Association welcomed Walker and his company with open arms, saying they hope the factory in Holder will boost the fledgling business community in Citrus Springs.

"We feel that Pro-Line is a very good way to anchor down a lot of other businesses into the area, and that business growth will enhance our property values," resident Barbara Trietley said.

Walker said it will take about 10 months to build the 100,000-square-foot factory. The company is holding off on construction until it gets $1.5-million in state grant money to build the road and sewer line out to the site.

Walker expects to find out in late July or early August whether Pro-Line will get the grants.

"My instructions from Lewis Ranieri (who owns the controlling shares in Pro-Line) is, "When they decide they're going to build the sewer and the road _ build the factory,' " Walker said.

The boat manufacturer has outgrown its 17-acre plant in Homosassa, and new environmental regulations expected to go into effect in 2004 will require Pro-Line to build a new factory with equipment that can better capture harsh chemical fumes, Walker said.

Walker said Pro-Line would spend $500,000 on state of the art equipment that will capture the fumes from styrene monomer, a chemical classified as an irritant but not hazardous.

The Pro-Line factory would be the anchor of an industrial park that could include other boat parts suppliers. Walker estimates that Pro-Line spends $4.5-million a year on parts from outside Citrus County; if he could persuade those suppliers to set up shop in Holder, that money could stay here, Walker said.

Walker praised the county for applying for the state grants Pro-Line needs, but he said if that money does not materialize, Pro-Line will have to build its factory in another state that is making a better offer.

"We've been telling (other interested states) that we feel comfortable staying in Citrus County, but as a back-up plan, we're still listening," Walker said.

"But we have a solid Plan A to stay here in Citrus County," he added.

County officials have said they want to do everything they can to keep Pro-Line, a company that pours $10-million annually in salaries to 473 employees in Citrus County.

Walker estimates the new factory will add another 150 to 200 jobs in its first year.

After receiving assurances that Pro-Line will keep chemical fumes out of the air and landscape the factory grounds, Citrus Springs residents said Wednesday night they were happy to welcome their new neighbor.

"Why should they move out of the county when we've got the property here?" resident Thelma Champeau asked. "If it's something that's going to bring more people here, it sounds good to me."