Wisconsin marine industry road trip

WorkBoat’s national sales manager Kristin Luke and I just finished up a weeklong trip visiting marine companies in Wisconsin.

We started off our road trip through the Badger State by heading to Michigan. Doesn’t everybody? On Monday at R.W. Fernstrum‘s Menominee, Mich., facility just over the Wisconsin line, sales manager Dave Peura gave me a tour of the shop. There was lots of activity in the “engineered cooling solutions” production facility. “We make a very good product.” Peura said. “We’re very conscious of what our customers want.”

Peura said Fernstrum’s owners give their employees a good, safe environment in which to work. It certainly looked that way. “We don’t have much turnover. The owners appreciate our workers and take care of them.”

Back in Wisconsin, we headed to the town of Appleton, home of Appleton Marine. The company manufactures cranes, winches, windlasses and capstans.

We met with Appleton’s sales manager, Shea B. Nimocks, and sales engineer, Matt Markowski. Both started out in the engineering department before moving to sales. “Our having been on the engineering part of the business gives us a unique perspective,” said Nimocks. “Our clients know that we understand how and why our products work.”

Next stop was at Marine Travelift in Sturgeon Bay. Stephen Fischer said the company was excited about the new 820-metric ton Travelift boat hoist they are installing at Yank Marine in Dorchester, N.J.

On Tuesday, we spent the day at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, also in Sturgeon Bay. Bay Ship has a number of interesting projects underway. (Look for more details in WorkBoat’s August issue.) The yard’s vice president and general manager, Todd Thayse, discussed the relationship between the shipyard and the city of Sturgeon Bay. “The town of Sturgeon Bay understands the marine industry very well,” he said. “We’re not just a company that happens to be located here. We try to play a prominent role in the community.”

Wednesday we headed to Burger Boat in Manitowoc where the company’s president and CEO, Jim Ruffolo, was lamenting about the price cutting that some yards practice to try to stay alive. “The country is saturated with too many yards,” he said. “This kind of thing that we’re seeing is a race to the bottom. We won’t do that.”

From there we headed to Kohler, Wis., where Kohler manufactures marine generator sets and other products. The campus is huge and we only saw a part of it. Heather Zimbal, communications leader, said there is a special bond between the residents of Kohler and the company. “There’s just an appreciation of the Kohler company, the Kohler family,” she said.

We finished up our trip by visiting H.O. Bostrom, Harken and Twin Disc. All the people we met were extremely welcoming, helpful and sincere. Our appreciation goes out to them all. And did I mention how good the beer is here?

About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

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