In a sign of the times, more than 100 craftspeople that Palmer Johnson hired for its UK-based yacht-building operations have been laid off.
Both the Daily Echo newspaper and Boating Business magazine reported earlier this week that the yard in Hythe, on the southern coast of England, planned to release 110 employees and shut its doors. It’s the same facility that recently launched the first 51-meter Sport Yacht. Boating Business further reported rumors that some employees staged a walkout in the days prior because they hadn’t been paid, and suppliers also reportedly hadn’t been paid. Boating Business attempted several times to contact Lee Archer, director of the facility, for comment but indicated that the phone went unanswered.
However, Mike Kelsey, Jr., president of Palmer Johnson, confirmed the layoffs and shut-down in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. The statement further added:
The company had also been planning to build a new facility in the former VT shipyard in Woolston, Southampton. The Wisconsin-based builder, which received planning permission to build the yard last month, had forecast the creation of about 800 local jobs. “We have decided that with the world economy as it is, along with excess capacity offered by our base in the United States at the Wisconsin Shipyard, that we would wind down the UK operations at this time and move the entire Sportyacht program to the Palmer Johnson facility in Wisconsin,’ said Mike Kelsey, Palmer Johnson president.
It’s a sad turn of events from early 2008, when Palmer Johnson unveiled plans to begin yacht construction both there and in the nearby town of Woolston, at a facility formerly occupied by Vosper Thornycroft. Eight hundred jobs were expected to be created. Local officials and media celebrated the plans, in light of hundreds of layoffs previously made by large firms that had operated there. Furthermore, they saw it as bolstering the marine-industry operations in and around Southampton. Sunseeker has long had a presence there, and Lloyds Register relocated its headquarters to Southampton from London. It created 100 new jobs, complementing the 450 employees transferred in the process.
However, Kelsey remains optimistic that it can revive operations in England. The statement added: “‘We are still in discussion with S.E.E.D.A. to develop the Woolston site when the need arises.” (SEEDA stands for the South East England Development Agency, which supports economic development in the region.) Kelsey also stated that the design team located there will remain there.