Majestic Yachts Rides Out Stormy Economy

David Greene revisits his series "100 Days on the Road in Troubled Times" with Jim Hadley, the president and CEO of Majestic Yachts, in Columbia, Kentucky. The company laid off all its employees during the down economy. It is slowly rehiring workers.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Back in 2009, I set off on this road trip for NPR to mark President Obama's first 100 days in office. I wanted to hear personal stories about how communities were coping with the recession. Well, now more than two years have passed, and whatever else might have changed, the economy is still shaky.

In the coming weeks, we'll be reaching out to some of the people I met two years ago. Today, we'll check in with a small company in Columbia, Kentucky called Majestic Yachts. They make houseboats. A man named Jim Hadley was running the company with two of his friends, and he told me how it's so much more than a job to them.

Mr. JIM HADLEY (Majestic Yachts): We are kind of like an old rock band. We've been together a long time, and hopefully we'll be together a whole lot longer. We love what we do. Manufacturing of houseboats and river yachts is in our blood. It's always been in our blood.

GREENE: At that time, February 2009, the orders for houseboats had dried up. There was no business, and Jim had to lay off all 27 of his employees. His factory floor was eerily empty. He wasn't even heating the place. I asked him to fire up a few of those machines just so I could hear them. And it brought a smile to his face.

Mr. HADLEY: We're going to fire it up here.

(Soundbite of machines starting)

Mr. HADLEY: Uses a lot of juice to get to cranking. Now we're getting back to my sound.

To be honest with you, David, that was probably the worst time of our careers, if not the worst time of our lives.

GREENE: At the end there, that was Jim speaking to me by phone. I called him back to see how things are for him now.

Tell me how the old rock band is doing.

Mr. HADLEY: The old rock band is hanging in there. We're pretty tough. We saw a lot of our industry go by the wayside. But we've hung in there, David. We have - did everything that's legal and moral to stay in business, from construction jobs to working on horse traders' boats, repairs. So we're pretty tough, David. We've just gotten tough with the times.

GREENE: And, Jim, what do your experiences say about the economy?

HADLEY: David, back in probably in February and March of 2011, our phone starting ringing. We had customers, walk-in customers. It seemed like the economy was starting to turn around. And then, as you know, the fuel prices started to go up, and seemed like it just almost killed it instantly.

However, with that said, the economy has come back a bit, not very much, but some. We've been able to recall five employees here.

GREENE: One of the people Jim was able to bring back was a woman named Faye Womack. She used to work for him as a seamstress, making seat cushions for those houseboats. Well, the demand for houseboats hasn't come back strong yet. For now, Faye is working as the company's receptionist.

Ms. FAYE WOMACK (Majestic Yachts): Good morning, David.

GREENE: Faye Womack, how are you doing? It's nice to hear your voice.

WOMACK: Thanks. It's nice being back.

GREENE: Do you miss working on the boats and doing the seamstress work?

WOMACK: Yeah, because I love to do that.

GREENE: Faye, I want to play a little bit of a conversation you and I had driving in your car. I hope that's okay with you, because it really stuck with me, you know, after I visited you.

WOMACK: I really hate, because we're laid off. It's bad because, you know, there's a lot of good people works there. Sad, it is really sad. You know, you hate to lose your job. And you know there's people with families. And there's nowhere here to get a job.

GREENE: Faye, I have to say, when I did that trip in 2009, your voice stuck with me like no other. What are your emotions now compared to then?

WOMACK: Not quite as bad. I wish everybody was back. It would be better. But I think that things will get better. You know, there's people comes in and out, and they'll price a boat and then they'll think about it. But the thing is, is the economy is so bad and, you know, people just don't want to make those big financial decisions right now.

GREENE: You actually - you told me when we were standing out there at the marina that you worried, back in 2009, that the houseboat industry might never come back. You still have that fear, that that industry's just never going to get back on its feet?

WOMACK: I don't know. It just depends on the economy because, you know, a lot of the houseboat companies have completely closed. I mean, they're gone, and we're one of the very few that's still around. So I feel like that if we can hang in there long enough, that, in time, it will. But it may be, you know, few years down the road.

GREENE: That's Faye Womack. She is an employee at Majestic Yachts in Columbia, Kentucky.

Faye, thank you for talking to us.

WOMACK: Thank you, David.

GREENE: We were also talking to Jim Hadley, who is the owner of Majestic Yachts.

Jim, thank you for your time.

HADLEY: David, certainly good to hear from you. And thank you, David.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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