Yacht builder a boost to Loudon

Officials look to state for help in building access road

Christensen Shipyards Ltd., a West Coast company expanding to Loudon County, will bring both prestige and jobs to the area, local officials said Friday.

The maker of yachts, some 170 feet to 220 feet long, is expected to begin construction in six weeks on a 450,000-square-foot plant to produce the vessels.


"It's certainly a feather in our cap that they choose to be here," Loudon County Mayor George Miller said. "It's one of the most prestigious yacht builders in the world. It's going to be a real contribution to the employment base in our county. These are good jobs.''

Henry Luken, an owner of Vancouver, Wash.-based Christensen Shipyards, has an option to purchase some 60 acres in the Wears Bend Area of Loudon County near Greenback, Miller said. It will be near the Monroe County line along the east side of Tellico Lake on 680 acres of industrial land and will be the first development on that property.

Media reports this week, including the News Sentinel, incorrectly identified Monroe County as the plant's location.

Loudon County officials expect assistance from the state in putting in a mile-long access road to the site, but Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development spokeswoman Dawn Rutledge Jones said Friday the state so far has no information on the project.

"We think we will have other industries looking at that area once the road is put in," Miller said. "It's the first industrial location on the east side of Tellico Lake."

Other than the road, Miller said he knows of no other incentives offered to get the Christensen expansion.

Luken said when the company begins making yachts in about a year he expects to hire about 500 employees. But the facility will be large enough to employ 1,000.

"It's a big deal," Miller said.

The yachts are made of fiberglass and other composite material, not steel, and cost between $50 million and $60 million.

Luken, an owner of Knoxville-based Jewelry Television who bought the real estate holdings of U.S. Senate candidate and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, lives in Chattanooga and became interested in Christensen's yachts after having owned several of the boats.

Pat Phillips, Loudon County Economic Development Agency director, said the employment at Christensen would be "extremely significant."

"It will be 1,000 (employees) at full production," he said. "It takes two years to produce a yacht. It will require a lot of special skills."

Phillips expects the jobs to offer good wages and benefits.

Luken said one of the main reasons he chose Loudon County was its access to the Tennessee River and Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Gulf of Mexico and ports in Florida and the Caribbean.

In addition, he cited the area's insulation from hurricanes that plague boat builders in coastal areas.

He noted that transporting a yacht from Vancouver to Florida is a 5,300-mile trip while transporting from Loudon County via inland waterways and the Gulf of Mexico to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is 1,200 miles.

Business writer Rebecca Ferrar may be reached at 865-342-6357.