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Houseboat Company Floats Back To Business


One employer feeling encouraged and just starting to come back from the brink is Majestic Yachts, Inc. They're a houseboat manufacturer in Columbia, Kentucky. I first came across Majestic three years. Jim Hadley, the president and CEO, had laid off dozens of employees, the machines had gone silent in his factory, and it was just down to Jim and his two co-owners.

JIM HADLEY: We are kind of like an old rock band. We've been together a long time and hopefully we'll be together a whole lot longer.

GREENE: Back during that 2009 visit, I also spoke to one of Jim's employees, Fay Womack, who had just lost her job as a seamstress.

FAY WOMACK: You know, you hate to lose your job. You know, it's bad. It is really bad. There's nowhere to get a job.

GREENE: But with some signs of life in the economy, we decided to check in with Majestic Yachts. We gave CEO Jim Hadley another call and asked him how things are going now.

HADLEY: Currently, David, we are probably 20 percent of full capacity. Our sales were hanging in there. As an industry, there were 13 manufacturers in our area three years ago. Today, there's only five left. We currently don't have any new orders. We did build one new order the last year, but things are starting to turn around just a little bit more.

GREENE: Well, if you're back to doing about 20 percent of the work that you were doing a few years ago, what does that mean in terms of employees? Have you been able to bring some of those few dozen people back on?

HADLEY: We have, David. We have been very, very fortunate in that we have brought five of our employees back, with the three of us that are already here; gives us a total of eight people.

GREENE: Jim, one question I had: we hear this term thrown around by economists: discouraged workers - and those are people have just given up on finding work. They're not even counted in the unemployment numbers. When you hear from the people who you had to lay off, are they still aggressively looking for jobs or have some of them given up?

HADLEY: I think a lot of them are still looking, David, and a lot of them have returned to other jobs. And for those that haven't are certainly discouraged and can't find anything, any jobs available. There are just not any there for them.

GREENE: And, Jim, you've been through other downturns before. Kind of step back and look at this one of the last few years and compare it to economic downturns of the past.

HADLEY: David, this downturn that we're currently in and hopefully coming out of has been just enormous compared to the things in the past. Back in the early '90s, there was a small downturn. It was only for a short period of time. But this downturn, it's destroyed a lot of people.

GREENE: One of the things that really struck me about your company, Jim, was the family feeling that you had. I mean, you've laid off several dozen people but you were in touch of them and they were in touch with you, you know, talking about how things were going, when they might be able to come back. Are you still in touch with a lot of the people who you laid off a couple of years ago?

HADLEY: Well, that's a good thing about a small community, David. Columbia, Kentucky is a small community and the surrounding areas. But we're a very close-knit community. We've kind of got a new little thing going here that's brought us even closer as a group daily. Fay Womack, who is our seamstress, she also answers our phones. Now, she is our head chef. She fixes an enormous breakfast every day for the employees.

GREENE: Well, Fay, of course, I spent a lot of time with her in addition to you when I was there. So, she's gone from being a seamstress, you don't have as much, you know, as many orders for big houseboats now so you've been able to bring her back but she's answering phones and doing cooking, so kind of adjusting to the new economy in a way.

HADLEY: Yes, yes, yes, yes. And again, we do that as a small company. It gives us kind of one of the bonuses of being small to where we can be very good to the folks that work with us.

GREENE: Well, Jim, best of luck to you. Please tell your employee Fay Womack I sent my best and look forward to talking to you again sometime.

HADLEY: Thank you, David. We appreciate always talking with you.

GREENE: That's Jim Hadley. He's the president and CEO of Majestic Yachts, Inc. in Columbia, Kentucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.