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story.lead_photo.caption Rodney Herndon (left) and son Rory on Monday discuss the expansion of Veranda Luxury Pontoons at the Hot Spring County Industrial Park near Malvern. - Photo by Stephen Steed

MALVERN -- A family-owned Arkansas company on Monday announced its purchase of a 377,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and its plans to hire another 100 workers to boost its relatively new production of high-end, high-horsepower pontoon boats.

Rory Herndon, president of Veranda Luxury Pontoons, said the company just two weeks ago closed on its purchase of a plant used for decades by Reynolds Metals Co. and, up until a year ago, by General Cable Corp.

Veranda, which now has 80 employees, will hire about 100 workers over the next two years as it doubles its production of pontoon boats, Herndon said.

4-Way Investments Inc. paid $3.75 million for the property, according to online tax records at the Hot Spring County assessor's office. Herndon declined to give other details of the family-owned company's investment.

The plant consists of three major buildings on 40 acres in the Hot Spring County Industrial Park, just off U.S. 270 between Malvern and Hot Springs.

Veranda and a sister company, Xpress Boats, are the progeny of Aluma-Weld, founded in 1966 by Kermit Bryant, a Navy pilot during World War II. Bryant took over an old schoolhouse in the Hot Spring County community of Friendship to produce all-aluminum, all-welded bass boats.

Herndon noted that his is the third generation of his family to run a company "that is still thriving, still growing, still giving back to the community."

Aluma-Weld now holds patents for a system of interlocking aluminum planks that form the decks of Veranda pontoon boats. The decks are then welded to the pontoons under the boat.

"No wood means no rot," Herndon, who is Bryant's grandson, said. And no fiberglass means no ugly gashes left from bumps and collisions, he said.

The Veranda line began production in 2006, with boats that can be custom-ordered and outfitted with motors of up to 250 horsepower.

The Veranda pontoons and Xpress bass boats now share about 250,000 square feet of manufacturing space at another industrial park southwest of Hot Springs, Herndon said. "We're at maximum capacity, and we badly needed a new place," he said.

Veranda's departure will free up space for Xpress Boats' eventual expansion, he said.

A tariff placed by President Donald Trump's administration on aluminum imports earlier this year has resulted in two price increases and some scrounging for aluminum, but the tariff hasn't otherwise affected production or sales, Herndon said.

Rick McClure, an economic developer with the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce, said Veranda's move is a boost for an industrial park scheduled for redevelopment next year. Veranda's neighbors will include Arkansas Midland Railroad, a Mid-America truck-driving school and Jay Bird Manufacturing, a wood-products plant.

Rodney Herndon, Rory's father and the company's chief executive officer, said Arkansas has a long history in boat production. "We're thrilled to take what Mr. Bryant did with bass boats and pass the same ingenuity to pontoons," Rodney Herndon, a 2016 inductee of the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame and Bryant's son-in-law, said.

In the middle of Monday's news conference presided over by the Herndons, a truck towing an Xpress bass boat peeled off U.S. 270 onto Remmel Dam Road, which runs along the western edge of Veranda's new home.

The Herndons noted it was headed for a public access and boat launch area of the Ouachita River, less than a mile away.

That's also where new Veranda pontoon boats will be tested periodically.

"I'm not sure we could find better access than that," Rodney Herndon said.

Business on 08/21/2018

Print Headline: Boat-maker sets expansion plans, aims to add 100 jobs

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