Boat builder moves to Colombia

BARRANQUILLA, COLOMBIA, SOUTH AMERICA—After nearly four decades of building inflatable boats in Venezuela, AB Inflatables has moved all boat production to a new factory in the neighboring country of Colombia, it reported in a statement yesterday. The last day of production in Venezuela was Dec. 21.

“All of the machinery is new, from the cutting equipment to the fiberglass machines. We have the most advanced equipment available for the work we do,” said company president Ivor Heyer.

The company’s new 100,000-square-foot facility in Barranquilla, Colombia is located in the duty free zone on the waterfront, 500 feet from customs and a half mile from the port. It is also an hour from the port cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta, giving the company the ability to ship from three convenient locations, it said.

“We have a facility that is three times the size of our old one,” Heyer said. “We want to double production in three years.”

AB Inflatables manufactures 35 models of inflatable boat, from tenders to coastal cruisers, ranging in size from 8 to 28 feet. The entire manufacturing process, from the building of fiberglass and aluminum hulls, to the fabrication of the tubes, is done under one roof, according to the company.

“With our new plant it takes quite a bit less time to build a boat than it did in Venezuela,” Heyer said. “When you build a second home you correct the mistakes of the first one. So it is with the new factory. We have changed the way we set up production to make it more efficient.”

Production in Colombia began several months ago. During the transition period, as new workers are trained, products will gradually be brought on line until full production of 3,000 boats per year is reached sometime in March, according to Heyer.

Boat builder cites several reasons for the move

Heyer said he began to search for a more business friendly location for his manufacturing operation because of difficulties in finding dependable, skilled labor, along with aggressive labor unions and government red tape that affected the company’s efficiency and ability to ship product in a timely fashion.

“I know that last year, due to political reasons in Venezuela, we had a lot of problems with labor and with importing/exporting product, which caused delays and a lot of frustration to our distributors and dealers,” he said.

After looking at the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Panama, he settled on Colombia as the new location. Not only did the country have a specialized labor force, which the other countries did not have, its stable democracy and the fact that it is a big exporter of products to the United States, were major drawing cards, according to the company. More than half of all the nation’s exports and about 45 percent of AB’s production go to the U.S. market.

“Workers in Columbia are highly skilled and well-educated. They are more responsible, more dedicated to work,” Heyer said. “In Venezuela we had a lot of problems finding welders. In Colombia we have a lot available. There’s a big difference.”

“Another big advantage is we are in a free trade zone. We can import goods — materials, machinery, everything we need for the development of our business — without paying taxes, which gives us a competitive edge over Venezuela and other countries.”

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