$20M shipyard still set for Tellico Lake

Christensen Yachts plans to go ahead with plant in Loudon

By Ed Marcum  Knoxville News Sentinel

Word from Christensen Yachts that the company plans to follow through with completion of a $20 million shipyard on Tellico Lake offers some hopeful news for the Loudon County economy.

"There is no question this is a very exciting project," said Ron Hammontree, executive director of the Tellico River Development Agency. "The plant could employ as many as 1,000 to 1,200 people."

The plant was announced to much excitement in 2006, but in early 2009 work on the 400,000-square-foot facility came to a halt because of the recession, an industry drop in boat sales, a decline in the stock market and other factors. However, Hammontree said the project's lead investor, Chattanooga businessman Henry Luken, was in the area last week and talked about plans to finish up the plant soon and get it in operation when the market improves a bit more.

John Lance, marketing and advertising director for Vancouver, Wash.-based Christensen Yachts, expressed similar optimism.

"We're starting to see signs of (economic) recovery and we're optimistic about what will happen here (Loudon County)," he said this week. "We hope to be moving forward with the Tennessee facility before long. We just have to wait until the market says its ready."

Christensen Yachts serves a high-end market, producing yachts priced at $50 million and up. The Loudon County facility, built on 60 acres, would augment the company's main production plant in Vancouver, producing yachts that are 164 feet or longer. Hammontree said Christensen Yachts officials told him the Vancouver plant only builds boats up to 165 feet long and the Loudon County plant will be able to build them up to 210 feet long.

Besides the direct benefit of providing jobs, the development agency anticipates there will be much spin-off economic benefit because of the nature of the customers the plant will attract to Loudon County, Hammontree said.

"The people who purchase these yachts are the doers and movers and they tend to visit about once a month while their yachts are being made, purchasing furniture and other things to fit them out," he said.