Busy Nichols Brothers adds to workforce in Freeland
November 10, 2009 · 4:07 PM
While the economy hammers other commercial sectors of Freeland, the local boatyard appears to be humming along nicely.
Nichols Brothers Boat Builders has added about 10 new employees in the past month, and the yard is full of partially built vessels, new CEO John Collins said Monday.
"We've gotten very busy here," Collins said.
He said hiring at the yard "is a continuing process," and that more employees would be added to the current workforce of about 160 as the nature of the work dictates.
But generally, "employment here seems to be pretty secure for right now," he said.
Nichols Brothers is hard at work on a number of vessels, including a new 64-car state ferry for the Keystone-Port Townsend route.
The ferry is being built by Todd Pacific Shipyard in Seattle, with Nichols Brothers as subcontractor.
Delivery is expected in January, "and we're right on schedule," Collins said.
Nichols Brothers is building the ferry's superstructure, which it currently is attaching in Freeland to the center portion built by Todd.
When that part of the job is completed, the combined sections will be transported to Todd for attachment to the hull, Collins said.
Meanwhile, the two companies last month were awarded a $114 million state contract to build two more of the 64-car ferries, with an option for a third.
The first two ferries under the new contract are expected to take 20 months each to build under a similar arrangement between Todd and Nichols Brothers. The decision whether to build a third ferry is expected by May 2011.
Nichols Brothers is also building another $10 million heavy tugboat for a San Francisco buyer, who may also order another one, Collins. said.
The company, along with Kivchak Marine Industries in Seattle, also is building a fourth 116-foot catamaran ferry for San Francisco's Water Emergency Marine Authority.
A third in the series of the vessels was delivered this month to the Bay Area after sea trials at Langley Marina, and a fifth one may be ordered, Collins said.
Nichols Brothers also is building a small ferry for another California buyer, and is still pursuing a $25 million contract for five barges to be used in a Panama Canal dredging project.
Collins said Nichols Brothers is rebidding the the barge project, and that financing "is not a factor." Earlier, the company had been seeking funding for the barges from the federal Import-Export Bank.
The company hopes to put up a number of portable coverings purchased with $841,000 in federal stimulus funds it received in August. Collins said the coverings will be erected as soon as permits for height variances are issued, and will provide drier working conditions for employees.
Meanwhile, Collins, who took over as CEO this past month, said the company is "aggressively" bidding on a number of other tug, barge and ferry projects to keep the work flowing, and that the management team has been restructured to make it more efficient.
A year and a half ago, Nichols Brothers was in bankruptcy after financial woes forced layoffs and the eventual sale of the company to Ice Floe.
Last fall, 30 Nichols Brothers employees were laid off when the company lost a contract to build a new ferry for a California buyer.
"We're being very active now," Collins said. "We're really trucking along."