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Boatbuilding: A diversified outlook for Belfast's Front Street Shipyard

BY Peter Van Allen

1/7/2019
Photo / Ted Axelrod, axelrodphotography.com
Photo / Ted Axelrod, axelrodphotography.com
JB Turner, president of Front Street Shipyard

Front Street Shipyard in Belfast has seen unprecedented growth in the past seven years.

The boatyard, which was founded in 2011 by a group that has vast experience in boatbuilding and related products, continues to expand on the waterfront in Belfast, building and maintaining yachts and commercial and government vessels. As a company founded after the Great Recession, its president, JB Turner, is not a stranger to economic downturns.

“Having worked through several economic up-and-down cycles, I don't believe the dips are always bad for our industry,” says Turner. “Often people shift some investment portions of their portfolios into different projects, including real estate and yachts. If the economy takes a projected dip in 2019, we expect some of our customers to invest more in their yachts as they move money out of the stalled stock market.”

He says he remains positive about the future of the industry and the business.

“I see 2019 as a transitional year as the U.S. economy slows down after the recent growth period. In general, if interest rates continue to rise, I expect our smaller production work to slow, but the larger refit projects will remain strong,” Turner says.

Front Street Shipyard continues to diversify within the marine market. It just completed a 22,500-square-foot climate-controlled building, which provides additional space for new construction. The company also received a grant to install a new 43- by 16-foot waterjet-cutting machine, a precision device that could be used for boat-related products but also non-marine uses. Waterjet cutting machines are used in the automotive, aerospace and defense industries and other manufacturing settings.

Front Street also has a partnership with ferry builder Brodrene Aa of Norway, Arcadia Alliance, to construct carbon fiber passenger ferries in North America.

“Brodrene Aa has been busy building carbon ferries for European and Asian operators for two decades, and we see an opportunity for growing that business on our side of the Atlantic,” Turner says.

Maintenance is also expected to be in demand in 2019. “We continue to focus on our core businesses of refit and repair work, which remains in demand,” Turner says. “We balance it with boat storage and marina operations, as well as a production boatbuilding facility in a nearby town.”