Staying afloat in rough waters

0612 GamePlan MaritimeServicesMaritime Services Corp. in Hood River had been enjoying a record workload heading into winter 2011.

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0612 GamePlan MaritimeServices
Maritime Services Corp. engineered, supplied and installed the joiner outfitting for three Staten Island Ferries.

Maritime Services Corp. in Hood River had been enjoying a record workload heading into winter 2011. In October, the company, which designs and builds interiors for cruise ships, ferries, private yachts and other vessels, announced nearly $11 million in projects, including a $6 million contract with Princess Cruises and $2 million with the U.S. Army.

But something happened on Jan. 13, 2012, that has slowed the MSC ship. On that night, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia hit a reef in the Tyrrhenian Sea and partially sank, killing at least 32 people.

In the wake of the disaster, cruise ship bookings have fallen in some markets up to 25%, according to MSC chief executive officer George Selfridge.

“We’ve had some work canceled and that’s impacted us,” says Selfridge, who founded the company in 1986 as a manufacturer of small fiberglass sailboats and powerboats. “It’s quiet right now.”

Even so, Maritime operates in a niche space — Selfridge says there are just two or three competitors in the nation — and the company takes on a wide variety of maritime projects, between 150 and 200 annually, to keep itself diversified. When it’s not converting an onboard casino into a steakhouse, it’s outfitting a Staten Island ferry; when it’s not building the interior for the fourth-largest privately owned yacht in the U.S. it’s working on offshore oil rigs. MSC also has done land-based work for retailers J. Crew and Macy’s in New York.

MSC employs about 130 people full-time, but contract projects can temporarily drive numbers north of 350. Although the work requires plenty of travel, Selfridge says MSC tries to complete as much of it at its Hood River operation as possible. As a result, MSC designs and prefabricates entire ship interiors in its 40,000-square-foot production facility, then breaks them down, puts them in containers and ships them off. Once the interiors arrive, they are carefully loaded onto their destination vessel, reassembled and installed.

An avid boater who enjoys living in Hood River, Selfridge says he sees MSC following a pretty steady course into the future. The company may divest some smaller business units, but otherwise Selfridge says MSC will continue on its current tack and respond as needed.

“On the cruise ship side, they’re always getting bigger and they have to be done quicker,” Selfridge says. “So we’re always looking for every possible way to improve.”

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