The first Bertram Yacht to be built on Merritt Island, Florida has been ordered. The twin diesels of that luxury sportfisherman model will roar to life around the end of 2012 on the Canaveral Barge Canal, – not at Bretram’s old digs in Miami – launching a new era in manufacturing for Brevard County, Florida.
Though the Space Coast moniker is not yet in jeopardy, Brevard County could become a destination for sportfishing aficionados who have the wherewithal to purchase one of the world’s most respected — and expensive — big-game-sportfishing yachts.
“Many of our customers don’t want to go the showroom and buy one. What they want is not in the showroom,” Alton Herndon, Bertram’s president, said in an interview. “They want to come to the manufacturing facility and watch it being built. They make several visits.”
That’s just one of the economic pleasantries to ponder as Herndon and officials from the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast formally announce Bertram’s relocation to Brevard County at a three-hour event today on Merritt Island.
Herndon will announce that the 50-year-old company’s new home will be at the former Sea Ray factory at 1230 Sea Ray Drive on Merritt Island, where the company will, at least initially, build 15 to 25 sportfishing vessels a year that range from 50 to 80 feet long.
Bertram plans to hire 221 people and expects to find employees from among the former workers of Sea Ray, which closed its Merritt Island operation during the recession, and Kennedy Space Center, where 7,000 engineers and technicians were displaced when the shuttle program ended in July.
The company will move its manufacturing from a cramped facility near Miami International Airport, where 125 employees work. Bertram officials searched from North Miami to Virgina Beach before settling on Merritt Island, where the company is near the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway.
“We looked at over 30 plant sites,” Herndon said. “This proved to be the best of the best.”
For more than a year, the company worked with the Economic Development Commission, Brevard’s primary economic development agency, which was instrumental in the project as staffers assisted with various components, from location to environmental matters.
The EDC helped broker the deal for Bertram lease the property from VectorWorks Inc., a Titusville boatbuilder that bought the complex from Sea Ray, which never used the buildings Bertram will occupy.
“They really like the facility,” said Greg Weiner, the EDC’s senior director of business development, who also had a hand in other recent, high-profile victories for the county, including bringing the aviation companies AAR Airlift and MidAir USA to Melbourne International Airport. “It’s brand new.”
Bertram owners really like their boats, too. They speak highly of the seaworthiness of these vessels, which can cost upwards of $5 million for the larger models.
“I’ve had mine for 18 years, and it’s a well-made vessel,” said charter boat Capt. Joe Fetro, who runs the 28-foot Gettin’ There II out of Cape Canaveral. “I would buy another.”
The company’s noteriety will bring attention to Brevard, boaters said.
“Just having a high-profile company like that associated with us can’t do anything but help us,” said charter boat Capt. Mike Gautreaux, who runs Regular Guy Fishing Charters in Cape Canaveral and has much experience with the brand.
“Bertram is a huge name in boats,” Gautreaux continued. “It’ll bring jobs. It’ll bring recognition, and, hopefully, it’ll bring some sponsorships for fishing tournaments.”
Tournament big-game fishing at a level practiced by Bertram owners often comes with prizes above $100,000. The fishermen and spectators can bring millions of dollars to a fishing area’s restaurants, hotels and marinas.
Bertram is owned by the Ferretti Group, an Italian enterprise that bought the company in 1998. Beginning as strictly a fishing boat, Bertram evolved to earn a reputation for its luxury as well as its durability.
“It is all in how it’s built,” said Mike Kukla, Bertram sales director. “We skimp on nothing.”
In 2006, the company sold 55 vessels. Sales dropped during the recession, but Kukla said sales have begun to rise and soon should be near 25 a year.