Cape Coral firm to buy Wellcraft facility in Manatee, create 80 new jobs

jsalman@bradenton.comOctober 30, 2012 

MANATEE — A Cape Coral company has announced plans to purchase the former Wellcraft facility in South Manatee to expand its composite tool-making business, creating 80 new jobs during the next three years at the long vacant site.

JRL Ventures Inc. and its holdings company JRL Enterprises engineer and build composite-material plugs and molds used by other manufacturers to create products that range from flight simulators to boats and even rocket parts like the nose cones for NASA.

The former Wellcraft facility on Whitfield Avenue has been sitting vacant since early 2008, when the boat-maker laid off 225 local workers to focus on its operations in Michigan and Tennessee.

“The business will bring this large property back to life with high-impact jobs,” said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Manatee Economic Development Corp. “Anytime there was an opportunity to show the facility to a company, we would, and we couldn’t be happier.”

The new owners have a strong familiarity with the plant, which consists of more than one million square feet of manufacturing space stretched over five buildings.

JRL owner and Chief Executive Bob Long worked as president of Wellcraft in Manatee from 1976 through the 1980s. The company at one time employed 800 local workers.

The abandoned Wellcraft site is now owned by the Platinum Group in California, which acquired all of Wellcraft’s real estate in its bankruptcy. The sale to JRL is expected to close Wednesday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In addition to purchasing the facility, Long says the company is buying a massive 5-Axis CNC robotic router that will operate at the new location at a cost of almost $1 million.

Long also plans to sublease some space and sell the office building at the complex to a third-party.

“We know the facility very well,” Long said Tuesday. “It is suited for the type of work we do.”

When Long and his wife, Karen, purchased Marine Concepts in 1994, the company had 15 employees. Doing business as JRL Ventures, today it has 135.

The Wellcraft site will be an expansion, with the company’s headquarters remaining in Lee County.

The new operation is estimated to create 80 new jobs and preserve another 120 existing Florida positions, according to the EDC.

JRL Ventures garnered $192,000 in state grants, while Manatee County approved up to $48,000 in performance-based incentives. To qualify for the funds, the company must create 80 jobs over three years with an average annual wage of at least $34,556, which is equivalent to the county’s average wage.

The project also qualified for the state’s “Brownfield” program, which could provide up to $160,000 in sales tax rebates as a preexisting environmental condition is cured.

Work already is underway on the property, including cleaning up the site considered by many as an eye sore the past four years.

“We’re in the process of a lot of clean up,” Long said. “In a month or so, you won’t even recognize it.”

Part of the decision to expand into Manatee also was driven by Long’s familiarity with the workforce from his time with Wellcraft. Potential job candidates should monitor the company’s website at www.marineconcepts.com and send resumes to info@marineconcepts.com, or apply in person at 1651 Whitfield Ave., Sarasota.

“That revitalization is always good,” said Peter Straw, executive director of the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturers Association. “These are all people who now will be out there gainfully employed, paying taxes and contributing to our community.”

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman pts.com, or apply in person at 1651 Whitfield Ave, Sarasota (Manatee County) 34243.

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