Whatcom County boat manufacturer moves into bigger Fairhaven warehouse

A local boat manufacturer forced to close because of a fire is one step closer to reopening in a bigger facility.

Northwest Marine Industries signed a two-year lease with the Port of Bellingham to occupy a 20,000-square-foot warehouse at the Fairhaven Marine Industrial Park, which is near the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. The company builds a variety of boats, including SeaSport, C-dory, Osprey and Skagit Orca.

The company was in an 11,420-square-foot warehouse at 5375 Labounty Drive when a fire erupted there on the evening of Sept. 11. The damage put 22 employees out of work. Getting them back to work and filling orders again was the main focus the past few weeks, said Ron Wright, managing member of the company. Wright, Mark Wright and Ryan Binning own the company.

“It took a while because after a fire you don’t have a plan in place, but the port was very supportive of what we wanted to do,” Ron Wright said. “I was worried about (the employees). Many of them had been with the company during the old SeaSport days.”

The Wrights have a long history in the local boat-building business. The family started in Fairhaven in 1955 under the name Sportsman Boats. In 1977 the company moved to a warehouse on Guide Meridian and became known as Wright Brothers Boats, focusing on pilot-house lines that vary in length, including a 28-foot model. The family got out of the business for a few years but then bought the boat molds and re-established the business in 2011 as Northwest Marine Industries.

The company was at about maximum capacity when the fire hit, so moving into a bigger space provides more opportunities , said Greg Little, production manager for Northwest Marine.

The company started moving into the new space Wednesday, Nov. 5, and Wright expects boats to be heading out to dealers again in the coming weeks. The company needs to catch up on orders it had before the fire as well as eight new orders.

The port agreed to a lower monthly lease rate early in the lease agreement as the company gets back on its feet. The initial lease is $6,400 a month, rising to 35 cents a square foot ($7,000 a month for the 20,000-square-foot space), said Shirley McFearin, real estate director for the port.

The port went with a lower rate at the beginning because it was interested in filling that space with a marine trade company. The space had just become available in the past month. For a space that size, it would have taken at least another six months to fill with that type of tenant, McFearin said.

For Ron Wright, the return to the boat-building business has been invigorating and exciting. Now 65, Wright said he’s enjoyed bringing this back to the community. He’s hoping to grow the business back up to around 50 employees.

“The support from dealers and the community has been overwhelming,” Wright said, adding that he’s been appreciative of all the people that had personally come up to him and thanked him for restarting the company.

For details about the company, visit nmiboats.com or call 360-389-5351.