Expansion keeps elite boat maker in Lansing

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Manitou Pontoon Boats is expanding to a new location in Lansing. Photo taken 8/7/2014 by Greg DeRuiter(Photo: Greg DeRuiter)

There’s a “what might’ve been” in the success story of Triton Industries.

In 2011, demand was growing for its high-end Manitou pontoons. Triton’s Delta Township facility was too small, and President Scott VanWagenen said the company was hesitant to break the team into two shifts.

“We couldn’t stay where we were,” he said, stressing the difficult choice for the company founded in Lansing in 1985. Pressure to move near suppliers in Indiana and 2016 designs that couldn’t be produced in the old facility “brought us to our knees.”

But then a facility went on the market in Watertown Township in spring 2014. With the help of Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Lansing Economic Area Partnership and grants that brought sewer lines to the building, the $6 million, 160,000-square-foot facility became Manitou’s home in August. It’s two-and-a-half times larger than the former location; the workforce expanded from 70 to 95. Within the next 16 months, VanWagenen expects to hire 15 more. Manitou’s growth has earned it recognition from the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“It was so important for us to stay here,” he said.

What’s kept Manitou strong?

Scott VanWagenen (Photo: Courtesy photo)

I’m so passionate about my people. And all my employees were hired locally. I have quite a few people who’ve been with me for 30 years. Our vice president of operations, Dave Curtis, invented the V-Toon (which accelerates and maneuvers like a V-hull boat). He started in 1986 or ’87 as a welder right out of Grand Ledge High School. You have to be proud of people like that.

What is Manitou celebrating about 2015 and what’s next in 2016?

Every year our people come with new designs that are different from anything else. (Designers) just keep coming up with things that blow my mind. Our 2016 year started in August, and our sales are up and our unit orders are up close to 20 percent over last year — and now we have the space to build those.

Why do you love working at Manitou?

I see the passion that our people have for the product, the pride they take in the product, the innovation they bring the product. I just brought these people together and let them spread their wings and they’ve done a tremendous job of it.

Erin F. Wasinger, for the Lansing State Journal