MANATEE -- A small powerboat manufacturer in Manatee County has garnered some national attention.
Hann Powerboats was the only Florida firm and one of just eight companies nationwide recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce in the 2011 Annual Report produced by the agency's trade promotion arm.
Led by Hann's recent $400,000 sale of military-style powerboats to a company from Nigeria, the local manufacturer was featured by the U.S. Department of Commerce for its exports, a segment of the business that has thrived the last two years.
"We have some really good things happening," owner Russell Hann said. "We have some momentum now."
Hann Powerboats relocated to 18th Street East in Southern Manatee County two years ago after previous stints in Destin and Plant City.
The company specializes in large military-style boats engineered to go extremely fast while being fuel efficient. Most of its boats are sold to the government, including the U.S. Air Force, Navy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, municipal authorities and some private corporations.
But because government budgets are slimming, the company two years ago began exploring ways to expand its customer base. The answer was in foreign exports.
Hann went from zero international boat sales 18 months ago to the segment now accounting for 60 percent of its revenue.
The growth helped Hann in January expand into the adjacent warehouse to increase operations. The company plans to more than double its six member payroll this year.
"We were just looking at the prospects of the Navy buying more boats, and it didn't look good," Hann said. "So we said 'where can we sell some boats?' ... The private sector is definitely coming back so it's something worth going after."
Hann makes seven different size models ranging from 13 feet to 50 feet long. All of the boats are made from fiberglass, except the 40-footer, which is aluminum.
The firm's 50-foot model can cruise at speeds of 50 knots -- or about 63 miles per hour -- while only burning 35 gallons
of fuel an hour. By comparison, most recreational boats of that size max out at about 36 knots, burning upwards of 126 gallons of gas per hour, said Kevin McLaughlin, vice president.
The boats retail from $35,000 for the 18-foot fishing boat to $750,000 for the 50-footer.
The company is finalizing a contract agreement with a Nigerian company to sell eight of its 40-foot models, an order that would take nearly a year to fully complete.
Hann also would hire an additional 15 production workers and three supervisors to help, McLaughlin said.
The manufacturer received praise from the Department of Commerce for how extensively it vetted its foreign buyers to ensure they were legitimate companies -- a vital step since the orders contained material that could be used for military purposes, McLaughlin said.
Hann relied on the U.S. Department of Commerce to assist in the background screening process.
"Part of it was our willingness to work with the Department of Commerce, while some tend to shy away from government," McLaughlin said. "If the Department of Commerce told us something would happen tomorrow, it happened."
Area officials said Hann's recent success is a testament to the improving business climate in Manatee.
The boat manufacturer even was featured in a recent promotional video on the impacts of the area's growing sports performance industry produced by the Manatee Economic Development Corp.
"Hann just realized in order to diversify their business, they needed to get involved in exporting internationally," EDC President and CEO Sharon Hillstrom said. "And they were very successful at it."
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman