Sea Pro sells nationally, hires local

Fairfield County administrator Jason Taylor visited Sea Pro’s boat manufacturing plant on Monday to observe work on the facility’s second boat, at right, a Sea Pro 320 Center Console. Joining him are Sam Hodges (Economic Development), Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas, Sea Pro Vice President Preston Wrenn, Fairfield Economic Development Director Ty Davenport and Councilman Douglas Pauley. | Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – The county’s new Sea Pro boat manufacturing facility in Winnsboro recently built its first boat, said Preston Wrenn, vice president of the company.

“We are now working on boat number two as we speak,” Wrenn said. “We currently have about 14 people in house working, and we’re looking to grow that to approximately 80 by next year, with a full hire-out somewhere in the 130 range in the next 24 to 36 months.”

The company acquired the building in Winnsboro back in March to expand its Whitmire-based manufacturing operation. While they will continue to manufacture 17- to 25-foot boats at their Whitmire facility, the 24- to 32-foot boats will be built in Winnsboro going forward, Wrenn said.

The hiring effort got a boost from a recent county-sponsored job fair, he said, which brought in 11 new employees after interviews with several candidates.

Originally, Sea Pro began back in 1988, Wrenn said, when his current business partner, Jimmy Hancock, started the company with his (Hancock’s) brother. When the recession hit in 2008, they sold the company to another manufacturer, which closed it down.

At that time the marine industry saw an 85 percent drop, Wrenn said, as its target market of middle-class and middle-aged folks became focused on mortgages and other bills as a result of the economic downturn. But the market for new boats bounced back during 2010-12.

“Jimmy and I had known each other since high school and done a little business over the years,” he said. “We re-acquired the trademark and retooled all new models beginning in 2014.”

The current Sea Pro boat company, which is owned by Wrenn and Hancock, owns 75 percent of parent company Victory Boats LLC. The remaining 25 percent is owned by investors, which include key personnel like the chief financial officer and members of the sales staff.

Production in Whitmire began in 2016, and the company is currently producing about 1,200 boats a year. The Winnsboro facility, located in the former Fazio building on Highway 34 just east of the intersection at Highway 321, gives the company the ability to double production over the next 3-5 years. The plan, Wrenn said, is to grow the company – a mid-tier manufacturer of center console saltwater fishing boats – to be number one in its market segment.

Fairfield County’ Director of Economic Development Ty Davenport said Sea Pro is the kind of company that brings significant development for the county on several levels.

“Winnsboro and the surrounding area residents will benefit from job opportunities close to home, and local commercial and retail establishments will see increased business from their employees. Plus the county’s tax base will grow,” Davenport said. “It’s always an extra benefit to see a local company do so well.”

South Carolina, with its mild climate and long and accessible coastline, creates a significant market for fishing boats. Still, Wrenn said, a majority of their boats are sold in Florida, which has even more coastline.

Wrenn, who, like his business partner, grew up in the Chapin area, said the type of boats they produce have become “the sport utility of the water,” a kind of universal family boat that covers all the bases for watersports and enjoying the water.

He said business is good and the company is excited to be expanding in Fairfield.

“We’re excited to be in Winnsboro, no doubt,” Wrenn said, “and we’re looking forward to being able to provide opportunity for a lot of folks in this area.”

Applications from job seekers are being taken Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., on site at 396 State Highway 34 East in Winnsboro.