High hopes: OBX Boatworks brings former yacht factory back to life
In its heyday, the former Hatteras Yachts factory on East Kivett Drive employed about 850 people, producing up to 30 expensive boats per month.
Brad Flater may not reach that level of output and work force anytime soon, but he has big goals for the facility, which is occupied by his company, OBX Boatworks.
Flater is trying to build upon the tradition of Hatteras — which left High Point in 1997 to consolidate in New Bern — in his aspiration of making the city a hub of boatmaking once again.
A former Hatteras employee who worked in product development for the company, Flater has a handful of his former colleagues working for him in his new venture.
He hopes to grow the business by tapping into the market for customized luxury yachts, banking on the furniture craftsman skills of his employees to give him an edge.
“When Hatteras was here, it was really something that High Point prided itself on. We’ve got a perfect facility and great work force with the old Hatteras employees,” Flater said. “I would like to turn the facility from an eyesore into something we can be proud of.”
Following a successful stint in the furniture business after Hatteras closed in High Point, Flater returned to his passion in 2010 with the goal of using the latest technology to build fishing boats ranging in length from 23 to 32 feet in the classic Outer Banks style.
“I decided I would do something I loved again,” he said. “The timing was not great to start a luxury-yacht business, but I think people have been waiting so long now to buy a new boat, we’re seeing the market pick up.”
Since production started in 2012, OBX has made about six boats per year. During a visit to the facility last week, the employees were busy, with three boats in various stages of construction.
One of them — a 34.5-foot-long “345 Express” — was about to be delivered to a client in Long Island, N.Y.
With a base price of $355,000, the boat has customized interior features — such as handcrafted cabinets in its cabin — that Flater hopes will appeal to a high-end clientele he reaches primarily through boat shows and word of mouth.
Also under construction were two smaller “345 Center Console” model boats for customers in Wilmington and Naples, Fla.
He’s found that there is consumer demand for the design of Carolina-styled fishing boats that were the calling card of the old Hatteras factory. The prototypes of OBX boats are made on Harkers Island at the Outer Banks, so they resemble the yachts that used to roll off the assembly line in High Point, but are built in a modern way.
“The idea is to have customized appeal that stands out in a crowd, to hopefully give us a little advantage over the competition,” Flater said. “We’re transitioning from traditional boat building style and taking it to a new, modern era of construction.”
Bringing the 135,000-square-foot factory back to what it used to be will be no easy task, he said, but he hopes to revitalize the site as the business grows.
“I would like to get the city and community involved in helping me achieve this goal with the facility, making it something we can be proud of instead of another dead manufacturing facility,” he said.