Multi-million-dollar contracts in New Zealand and the US have seen a Wanganui industry boom over the past few months, even as the national business outlook has worsened.
Q-West Boat Builders is now building vessels for Whalewatch Kaikoura and the Lake Manapouri power station plus private boats for the American market, requiring a large number of staff, including 20 boatbuilders.
Colin Mitchell, the company's general manager, told the Chronicle yesterday that contracts already locked in place had secured a "huge amount" of work for the Castlecliff shipyard.
Work is already well advanced on a 19.5-metre vessel for Meridian Energy that will be used to transfer crew to and from the power station on Lake Manapouri. The aluminium vessel is due for launch in April.
Mr Mitchell said the company had been awarded a contract for Whalewatch Kaikoura to build five passenger vessels, each worth nearly $3 million.
"These are all significant contracts in dollar terms, and it represents a huge amount of work for us."
Mr Mitchell said Q-West had recently taken on extra staff and now employed 26 full-time workers, with 20 of those in the workshop.
"There are other opportunities for us too and we're chasing those as well."
He said the Meridian vessel was designed in Australia and was the first time his company had built for that design firm. He was hopeful that would bring more work to Q-West as a result.
The company had just finished a boat for a buyer in the United States and that had gone to Nelson to be fitted out.
"The dollar dropping the way it is makes New Zealand an attractive place to build a boat for overseas buyers," Mr Mitchell said.
"Normally, it would make it especially attractive for the US market, but the way the financial markets have gone there in recent months we haven't been getting too many inquiries from that part of the world."
But despite that blip the company was fortunate because their contracts ran for considerable periods.
"Generally building a boat covers a 12 to 18 month period," he said.
"We've got the Meridian crew vessel due for delivery in April next year and we start building the first of the whale watch boats next week."
The whale watch boat is a 12-month project and the four other 17.8m boats will follow progressively over the next seven years.
"We've also got a 15m hydrographic research vessel for Niwa (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research NZ)" Mr Mitchell said.
"We built the first Whalewatch boat about 10 years ago and over the years we built another four boats for them.
"They had to decide whether they wanted to replace the fleet or refit the existing boats, and they decided on replacements."
Q-West had delivered a service vessel to Port Taranaki a few months ago, and has the port company's pilot boat here for a refit.
PICTURED: Riding a wave ... Colin Mitchell, general manager of Q-West Boat Builders, on the bow of the crew transfer vessel his company is building for Meridian Energy. The 19.5-metre long aluminium boat will take workers to and from the power station at Lake Manapouri.
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