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VIP boats -- Bankrupt

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Old 03-11-2008, 10:16 AM
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Default VIP boats -- Bankrupt

Regional news: Vivian presses on despite loss of major employer
By Janelle Rucker
Louisiana Gannett News

VIVIAN Carl Easter sat in his Pardue Street home Wednesday, just down the street from his former employer, wondering what happened.
It was about four weeks ago that Easter and dozens of other employees of Vivian Industries Inc., reported to work to find their pay checks and a letter informing them that they no longer had a job.


"It left a bad taste in everybody's mouth," Easter said. "They didn't let us know what was going on. We still don't know."

And they're not alone.

Not many people know what will happen to the empty facility at 620 Pardue St. or the town that relied on the boat maker as its largest employer at one time.

"It's been a slow and gradual loss of employment over the last few years," said Mayor Stephen Taylor. "We have been feeling the effects of its decline for some time."

Vivian is a town of 3,862 residents set on state Highway 1 in the rolling hills and piney woods of northern Caddo Parish, not far from the Caddo Pine Island Oil Field.

The highway splits the town, passing by the small Wal-Mart, North Caddo Medical Center, a Dairy Queen, Family Dollar and Dollar General stores and convenience stores before hitting downtown, where a green space on one corner has been home to events like the annual Redbud Festival each spring.

The highway passes Tom's Market, which was featured in the movie "The Mist," several churches, and a library branch before curving around and on out of town.

Vivian Industries Inc. had been here since 1969, contributing between $7,000 and $8,000 a year in taxes. Its main product was family pleasure boats and saltwater fishing boats.

According to the Northwest Lousiana Economic Development Foundation, the company was the town's largest employer with 220 people between 2006 and 2007. The boat maker was followed by North Caddo Medical Center, which employs 142.

The gates around the business closed a month ago, when employment was at about 110, but the final word on its fate came March 2 when owner William Parker III filed for bankruptcy. Parker has declined to comment.

"(Vivian Industries) used to be a booming business here," said Mike Dodge, a mechanic at Vivian Tire and Appliance Center.

Dodge once worked as a truck driver for Vivian Industries and remembers delivering boats to Canada. "There's going to be a lot of unemployment and a lot of people having to go out of town to work."

Some businesses in Vivian are feeling the aftershock of the plant closing.

Vivian Industries employees daily would walk to Brian Bauer's small restaurant, Buddy B's on North Pine.

He hopes someone takes over the plant, bringing back some of his loyal customers. In the meantime, he has purchased a catering truck to get more business and will start selling food at local festivals.

"I've got to chase the money," Bauer said. "It's not here."

The loss of a major employer could spell a downturn not only in the economy but the mood of the community. Yet Vivian seems to be keeping its chin up.

David Hale, owner of Texaco Xpress Lube, said he hasn't seen a change in the overall mood of the town. But he has spoken to a few of the former employees who worked there for almost 20 years.

"It's kind of sad for these employees," he said. "It's going to be hard, especially for the employees that lost their jobs. That's a large, large facility. It's sad it closed."

Last summer, Vivian Industries' Parker said the boat manufacturing industry is cyclical and seasonal and the industry was experiencing a low.

The industry did see a slump after Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. But Parker expressed his desire to keep the business in operation.

Easter, who worked at the company as a supervisor for eight years, said Vivian Industries had undergone changes in production in recent years.

"My first five years, we produced more boats then ever," he said. "For some reason, that changed."

The company started losing suppliers of the materials and equipment needed to make boats, he said. "We were getting orders but we didn't have the stuff to make (the boats) with."

Support for the plant goes back to 1991, when a $2 million bond issue was approved by 58 percent of voters to build the plant. But in the past year, Vivian Industries failed to make two $90,000 payments to the town, which is considered rent for the plant.

Had the owners paid it off, ownership would have been turned over to them.

Now, as owners of the building, the town has had to make the payments out of its economic development fund.

"This has unfolded over the past year. We've had lots and lots of meetings to help raise capital for them," Taylor said. "When it became evident that there wasn't enough trust in the former management then it was a matter of trying to encourage a sale. During that process, business continued to decline."

The town administration's willingness to assist the company through difficult times was an extension of the support started when voters approved the bond issue, Taylor said.

"That was the commitment from the community because of the value of the jobs and the importance of those jobs to the future of the town," he said.

Taylor said the company's woes have had an impact on town revenues. Vivian had seen an increase in sales tax revenues for the past three years until the past six months.

"Our sales tax revenues in the town had been increasing at about a 5 percent rate for the last three years. That rate seems to have fallen off to 1 percent in the last six months," Taylor said. "I can't prove it, but I believe that the decreased employment level at (Vivian Industries) has had something to do with that."

The town will continue to make the payments, to settle the bond issue, from the economic development fund. A portion of sales tax revenues goes into the fund and generates about $140,000 a year, Taylor said, and is used to recruit businesses.

"Fortunately that ties us up for a while," Taylor said. "If we get no occupant, the very worst-case scenario, we can cover the remaining payments with that cash flow."

The town isn't the only one affected. According to court documents, over 150 individuals and businesses are now listed as creditors including Texaco owner Hale.

He said that hasn't hurt his friendship with Parker.

"We live in the same town," he said, as he looked at Parker's personal vehicle sitting in his business garage. "We've been friends for a long time."

There are reasons many in Vivian remain optimistic.

Oil has "offered some type of cushion," Taylor said. The rise in oil prices has seen some new drilling and reworking of some older wells, which has resulted in an increase in employment in this sector, though nowhere like in the '70s.

The largest employers in the area now are North Caddo Medical Center and its clinics and the Caddo Parish School Board. There are other small- and medium-sized operations here such as Gesipa Fasteners and General Wholesale. Many residents commute to Shreveport-Bossier City also.

When a town loses its biggest employer, the effects vary, said Kurt Foreman, senior vice president of the Northwest Louisiana Economic Development Foundation.

"I think it depends on whether the community is truly isolated or part of a broader area," Foreman said. "Vivian is rural, but it is part of the Shreveport-Bossier (metropolitan statistical area). With the relative strength of the region's economy, I am hopeful that the workers can find alternatives here."

He added: "I find Vivian to be an optimistic place and a community with quite a bit of pride. It also helps that Vivian and its neighbor, Oil City, have been active in trying to look for additional opportunities to grow their communities. This community is far from down and out."

Taylor is also hopeful.

"We've got our fingers crossed and we're on the phone," he said about efforts to find another occupant for the facility. "Anyone interested could get it for less than an initial startup. It could be had for a bargain."

To keep moving forward, the town continues to seek other options for business growth, including finding occupants for the two industrial parks. At the north and south ends of the town sit two vacant 40,000-square-foot buildings.

Easter isn't sure what he'll do but is taking a few months off to relax, he said.

"I'll do whatever. I have no problem adjusting to another job," he said. "Lucky me, I've done many other jobs, so I can do whatever."
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Old 03-11-2008, 11:38 AM
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That's a shame, I had a VIP runabout at one time, decent entry level boat for the money
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Old 03-11-2008, 11:52 AM
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With a Walmart in that small of a town.......I bet a lot of other businesses closed then too. Too bad.
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Old 03-11-2008, 12:08 PM
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I met the "owner" of vip once when I was a bellman at the Hilton in in Clear Lake accross from NASA they used to have a VIP boat Superstore here. he seemed like a decent guy. pretty young though may have been the owners son.

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Old 03-11-2008, 12:36 PM
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We had a 21' VIP when I was younger. My families marina was also a dealer for them. We made several trips to Vivian to pick up boats and take them in for repairs.

Good boats for the price and size. Too bad for the town that they are bankrupt now.

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Old 03-11-2008, 07:09 PM
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My nephew is now the owner of an orphan boat.
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