CHARLESTON — By Coos County standards, Ray Cox has an enviable problem: He has too many jobs to fill.
On a Wednesday afternoon, an hour before quitting time at Cox's two-story shop, another hopeful arrives. He's a 20-something with short cropped hair and tattooed biceps.
Cox reluctantly turns him away. The young man lacked welding experience.
'That's the second one today," Cox said.
'It's been hard to find talented people. As everyone knows, we don't do anything in this country anymore. We don't have any industry. So where do you get your people from? Your experienced people?"
In a nation that has spent the past 50 years outsourcing its manufacturing sector, Cox's company, against the odds, is booming.
From 7 to 21 to 50
Since 2007, Giddings Boat Works has expanded its seven-strong payroll to 21 employees. If his company can acquire a crane to lift larger boats, he estimates it could grow to 50.
'We have got so much work," Cox said, 'we have to turn work down a lot of times."
Giddings is repairing and retrofitting about twice as many boats as it was in 2007. This year, for the first time in 13 years, Giddings has been contracted to build two new commercial vessels.
Why the surge in boat building? Mike Lee, Gidding's shipyard manager, says it's driven by a general demand from fishermen to replace aging vessels and to meet new boat standards.
As one of the few boat builders left on the West Coast, Giddings has been uniquely positioned to ride that wave.
Over the past decade, environmental regulations and housing development have pushed the industry out of California. Between Crescent City, Calif., and Astoria, Ore., there are only two boat building companies: Giddings, based in Charleston, and Fred Wahl Marine, based in Reedsport. The latter, like Giddings, also is cresting a surge in work.
Lee says the other factor to Giddings' success is that it offers lower prices than boat builders in Portland and Seattle. Because Coos County has a lower cost of living and because its employees are non-union, the company's overheads are lower. Lee says the company can offer prices 30 percent less while providing the same quality work.
'It's a small world, the fishing community," Lee said.
'They all talk. If you do a good job, half the fleet knows about it. If you do a bad job, half the fleet knows about it."
Ripples across harbor
For Charleston's maritime economy, Giddings' success has had a profound spin-off on other companies in the dry dock.
More boats mean more engine repairs for Encore Enterprises, more materials purchased from Englund Marine Supply, and more work for Cox's other company, Tarheel Aluminum and Fabrication,
'We have been doing good," said Brian Skallerud, general manager of fiberglass manufacturer Skallerud Marine.
'I just hired two more guys, so I have high expectations to stay busy."
Coos County Commissioner Cam Parry, a Charleston local, says the boon is good news, not only for Charleston, but the entire county.
'When you look at an employer that has gone from seven employees to 21 employees and is now looking at growing to 50 employees, with good, living wage jobs," Parry said, 'that positive impact on our economy is absolutely amazing."
Reporter Daniel Simmons-Ritchie can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 249, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.