Airboats to be manufactured in Meriden
Story and Photo by Clarke Davis
An airboat was unveiled at Ernest-Spencer Metals March 5, the debut of a new product line for the Meriden company.
President Neal Spencer said his company had been looking for a product line of its own — something they could design, control the quality, and it would carry their brand.
The Vapor 158 airboat on display, described as the Cadillac of airboats that will retail around $75,000, is on its way to a Florida dealer’s showroom.
Spencer said he had never ridden on an airboat and he acknowledged their lack of popularity in Kansas. However, he said his company was poised to quickly move to the forefront of the industry.
“It’s an antiquated industry that has done the same old thing for 30 years,” he said.
Bringing innovation and new designs to the airboat industry, Ernest-Spencer expects to become a leader in their manufacture through their trade name, DynaMarine.
The company’s partner and designer is Shane Lavalette, a Lawrence native. He came to the Meriden company to request they fabricate a hull for an airboat.
He was a government contractor and was submitting a solicitation to the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve for a new airboat design starting about two years ago. The possibility of that fell through when budgets were cut. He said he never got past the design stage and that the model on display Tuesday was the first airboat he’d been involved with completing.
When Spencer met Lavalette, he asked him what his business plan was. The response, “One boat at a time.”
The two agreed to join forces and make a real impact in the airboat business.
While airboats are usually only seen on TV as being used in the swamps, Lavalette said they can be used on rivers and anywhere there is shallow water. He said there is a market in the Midwest, even in Kansas. Other than one manufacturer in Texas, there is no one else making airboats in the Midwest.
In thanking his employees for their teamwork and extra effort in meeting the deadlines for the first airboat, Spencer said the new product line will create economic stability, additional employment, and general economic development for the entire community.
Guests present for the unveiling included the members of the Meriden-Ozawkie Chamber of Commerce, the company employees, family and friends.
Ernest-Spencer is more than 90 years old and has been at Meriden since 1993. The work force numbers about 200. Neal Spencer is the fourth generation to head the company. His grandfather, G.M. “Bud” Spencer, attended last week’s ceremony.
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