Longtime Four Winns employee Wendy Hunt remembers feelings of uncertainty and devastation when the boat manufacturer’s then-parent company filed for bankruptcy in June 2009.
Hunt, a Lake City resident who joined Four Winns’ scheduling department in 1998, thought she was out of a job when her receptionist position was subsequently eliminated.
“They always called me the voice of Four Winns,” she recalled.
But she avoided being laid off after the company transferred her to its maintenance department.
Kristy Prince of Cadillac also kept her job in the wake of the bankruptcy filing. She’s worked for Four Winns for 24 years.
“I clean boats and do a little bit of everything else,” Prince said.
Both women expressed hope for the company’s future after hearing speeches from Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Four Winns president Jeff Olson and Louis Samson of Platinum Equity, Four Winns’ new owner.
The Four Winns cruiser plant was the site of what was dubbed a “celebration” following the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce’s Governor’s Breakfast Wednesday morning.
Olson took Granholm on a tour of the plant before they and Samson addressed those gathered, including Four Winns’ employees, Cadillac officials and local business leaders.
“This is a good news day,” Granholm said.
Samson outlined what led Platinum to purchase Four Winns, Wellcraft – which was brought to Cadillac from Florida about two years ago – and several other boat companies from Genmar Holdings, Inc., during a bankruptcy auction in January. In the weeks following the sale, Platinum announced that another former Genmar brand, Glastron, is moving to Cadillac this summer from Little Falls, Minn., and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. revealed that Four Winns will receive $27.1 million in state tax credits over the next eight years.
It’s projected that about 2,300 jobs will be created during the next eight years because of Platinum’s investment in Cadillac.
Since Platinum came on board, Four Winns has recalled nearly 100 workers and expanded from one to three production lines, Samson said. Glastron president Mike O’Connell said his company will be hiring laid-off Four Winns employees when it moves to Cadillac in June. Other than a small sales/brand management team, Glastron is bringing “very few” Little Falls employees, he said.
Platinum decided to bring Glastron to Cadillac for a variety of reasons, including the Four Winns workforce and because the private equity firm was impressed with Four Winns/Wellcraft’s craftsmanship and manufacturing standards.
Granholm praised the workers, saying the Platinum deal wouldn’t have happened without them. She said her staff and Four Winns’ partnerships with the Cadillac Industrial Fund, Cadillac Area Manufacturers Association and the Chamber were instrumental in keeping Four Winns in Cadillac.
She recalled meeting Platinum CEO and founder Tom Gores, a Flint native and Michigan State University graduate, during tax credit discussions. She noted Gores’ passion for reviving Michigan’s economy.
“There was just something different about this, this company,’ Granholm said.
Samson said Olson had told him before the event that with three boat manufacturers based in Cadillac by the summer, Cadillac will be the site of the world’s largest boat manufacturing facility, based on volume. Although the marine industry still is struggling, Samson said Platinum is committed to expanding its interest in it.
“With the proper care and with the proper investment … we can be successful again,” he added.
“The market is recovering,” Samson said. “We’re trying to do right by our dealers and by our customers. But it’s a process.”
Both Hunt and Prince said they were impressed by the optimistic tone of the speeches.
“It was refreshing after going through what we went through to hear that,” Prince said.
“They give you the feeling of hope,” Hunt said.
As previously reported in the Cadillac News …
June 2009 – Minneapolis-based Genmar Holdings, Inc., then owner of Four Winns, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
November 2009 – Irwin Jacobs resigns as Genmar Holdings’ CEO to better position himself to make a bid for the company as it works to emerge from bankruptcy.
December 2009 – Four Winns president Jeff Olson meets with employees to tell them the company, as well as the other Genmar boat brands, will be auctioned off the following month as part of bankruptcy proceedings. Platinum Equity, a Beverly Hills, California-based private equity firm, is deemed the lead bidder for Four Winns assets and Cadillac operations.
Jan. 8, 2010 – Platinum Four Winns is the winning bidder at $70 million for most of Genmar’s assets, including Four Winns, Wellcraft and Glastron.
Jan. 13 – U.S. Bankruptcy Court approves sale despite request by unsecured Genmar creditors to reject all prevailing bids.
Feb. 1 – Four Winns sale to Platinum closes. Later that month, Platinum officials announce Glastron’s move to Cadillac.
Feb. 25 – The Michigan Economic Grant Authority approves a $27.1 million state tax credit over the next eight years to Four Winns, LLC, to encourage Platinum to continue to invest in Cadillac. Platinum’s investment is expected to create more than 2,300 jobs over the next eight years.