A major expansion of Skeeter Boats is in the works; a multi-phase project that aims to add jobs and inject new energy into the local economy while also putting a major property back on the tax rolls.
With backing from the City of Kilgore and other stakeholders, Kilgore Economic Development Corporation is entering into a purchase/sale agreement and economic development performance agreement to support the 75-year-old bass boat manufacturer’s purchase of the former Halliburton site on FM 349. Developments under the deal will stretch across the coming decade as the company invests in two facilities and adds more than 90 jobs, for an estimated 25 percent increase in capacity.
According to Lisa Denton, KEDC Executive Director, “Skeeter Boats has been a high impact employer in Kilgore since the early 1970s and has been land-locked in their current location,” “This purchase will allow the company to achieve intentional growth of the Kilgore location over the next several years.”
For Skeeter Boats, the initial project timeline is approximately 18 months. The development’s launch comes amid the operation’s 75th anniversary year – of those, 50 have been in Kilgore.
The expansion is personally gratifying for Jeff Stone, Senior Vice President of Skeeter Products. He’s eager to bring more people into the Skeeter family and increase daily production capacity in Kilgore while simultaneously putting a neighboring property back in action.
“I’ve grown up in this area and this part of East Texas. It’s very important and very exciting to see that kind of revitalization take place.”
The company has been building its bass boats out of the same facility for five decades. There have been expansions over the years, but this is by far the largest ever for the overall operation.
“Across those years, the City of Kilgore and KEDC have been instrumental in our growth. They’ve been with us all these years along the way,” Stone added. “We owe them a great deal of thanks for their support, helping us out as we’ve grown.”
In the coming months KEDC will initially assist Skeeter in requesting tax abatements tied to the project. The economic development corporation is owner financing the property purchase, with incentives being applied to the principal, as earned.
“With the unfortunate departure of Halliburton in 2020, the KEDC Board immediately recognized the need for acquisition of the property, with the sole intent of getting it back onto the tax rolls at its highest and best use,” Denton said. “Upon the closing of this sale, and with full support of the City Council, we will have accomplished that goal.”
With final contract approval by KEDC’s Board of Directors on Jan. 17, followed by Kilgore City Council members on Jan. 24, the two-phase project gets underway with the purchase of almost 12 acres and real property improvements tied to the existing boat component operation, along with an option on the remainder of the total 55.130-acre site. Capital investment in real and personal property for Phase I is estimated at $6.76 million and includes the addition of seven full-time positions at Skeeter Boats, according to KEDC’s initial three-year Economic Development Performance Agreement with Skeeter.
Phase II begins about 30 months into the agreement with the manufacturer’s purchase of the remaining 43.125 acres of the former Halliburton location and construction of a new boat factory in years 3-5 of the deal. Capital investment and personal property projected at $30 million and the addition of 84 more full time positions within the seven-year term of the agreement.
“It’s exciting to see this project come to fruition,” KEDC Board President Bob Davis Jr. said. “To get to witness the continued growth of one of our major employers, and to play a small part in the process, is what KEDC is all about.”
Potential, performance-based incentives crafted by KEDC for capital investment and job creation include up to $354,525 paid during the three-year term of Phase I, as earned, and up to $1.7 million in the seven years of Phase II.
The company’s roster already includes more than 350 employees today, more than any other time since Holmes Thurmond built the first Skeeter in 1948.
“That’s largely a part of being able to grow and have the support of the local community,” Stone added, grateful for assistance from KEDC and the key taxing entities. It’s also a boon to be able to expand into a currently vacant, under-utilized site and breathe new life into it. “It’s very essential in the sense of providing more diversity in the local economy in being able to use that property to provide additional jobs, additional tax base, which is very important to the city, the county, the school district.
“It’s win-win for the city, for Skeeter, for Yamaha, and especially for citizens in the area.”
For some years, the existing Skeeter Boats facility has been crowded, he noted, maximizing available square footage. The property expansion and added manufacturing will enable the company to produce a variety of the smaller essentials for the boats – things like consoles, storage boxes, and hatches – and bring those employees under one roof in Kilgore while adding more positions.
“The new job growth will come from increasing our capacity from 12 boats to 15 boats a day,” Stone said. It takes about 125 hours to produce one boat, so the added manufacturing capacity equates to as many as 15 jobs per boat that’s added to the daily routine.
All of it is possible with support from the city, Kilgore EDC and other stakeholders, he added.
“There have been so many other projects that we’ve secured assistance on that have allowed us to grow to what we are today,” Stone said. “It’s a very exciting time at Skeeter Boats and for all our employees.”