Johnson Outdoors, manufacturer of Old Town Canoes, moves research and development to Maine

By Ramona du Houx - July 13th, 2012 · 

Gov. John Baldacci, and Johnson Outdoors Chairman and CEO Helen Johnson-Leopold.
Photo Ramona du Houx

Johnson Outdoors is consolidating and streamlining its operations. The company will move all its research and development along with its marketing for its Watercraft division from Bellingham, Wash., to Old Town over the next year. The Wisconsin-based company makes Old Town canoes and kayaks.

In January of 2010, Johnson Outdoors celebrated the consolidation of their composite plastic-boat manufacturing in Old Town, after it closed a plant in Washington and moved work to Maine. That move increased their Maine’s workforce from 200 to 248. One reason they expanded in Maine and moved to a new facility was the proximity of the University of Maine and the renowned composites laboratories there. Since the move the company has been working with the UMaine R&D laboratory. Maine’s quality workforce, Pine Tree Development Zone tax incentives amongst others also played a major role in the relocation to Maine.

CEO Helen Johson-Leipold said the company last fall combined its Watercraft and Outdoor Gear divisions to help return Watercraft to profitability, and that the recent restructuring will speed up new product development. Unfortunately there will be a loss of 17 jobs in Wisconsin and Maine.

“Today’s actions are necessary to best position the business for future success and increase the velocity of meaningful innovation for paddling enthusiasts,” said Johnson-Leipold. “We remain committed to building long-term value for our customers and our shareholders, and are confident today’s actions will help us do so.”

The changes are anticipated to save the company $2 million annually by the end of 2014, while the cost of implementing the changes will be between $2 million and $2.5 million over the next year.

The company is also restructuring its European operations.