By Eric Jackson
Jackson Kayak started with very modest beginnings in an old laundromat that was 735 square feet in total. For the first two years we stored our parts, assembled our boats, shipped our boats and had offices in that factory. 2,500 boats the first year and 2,600 the second year. We couldn’t really do any more than that without a bigger factory. Our operations manager, John Ratliff, found us a new home, in Sparta, TN, in a 100,000 square foot factory that seemed excessively large at the time in 2006.
In 2009, however, we bought our first 2 ovens and began molding our own kayaks in that factory. We started hiring lots of people in the molding department, maintenance of the ovens, factory, etc. In 2010 we added contract molding to our program, making playground slides and other custom molding parts for other companies, including making Freedom Hawk Kayaks. For this we purchased a third oven, a three-arm oven, and hired more people and created a division called “Sparta Plastics” which still makes lots of parts today, our biggest component being road barriers that you see on the highways, etc.. In 2011 we began making fishing kayaks, starting with the Coosa, and the success of this new division of Jackson Kayak meant more ovens, and expanding the 100,000 building to accommodate 2 more ovens. Suddenly, our big factory with excess space was beginning to get cramped. Storing boats for dealers to choose from, and the manufacturing of the boats, not to mention the R+D division, the mold and raw material storage, and of course our small parts manufacturing were all starting to run together into a very tight factory. We managed to make it work, thanks to the hard work and planning of our factory team, lead by our VP of Manufacturing, John Shephard. However, in 2014, we added Orion Coolers to the mix, along with new kayak models, and the manufacturing of a Kuda LT, thermoformed fishing kayak that made it clear that without more space, we would be in trouble in 2015 and beyond. Once again, John Ratliff found us an awesome factory, only three miles from our current one, and three miles closer to my house as well! It was a Philipps Lighting factory before they went overseas. This factory is 300,000 square feet, which, to put it in perspective, is 6 acres under roof! It has 50 acres of land, a train track to the door step for shipping, and high ceilings for molding, and more. For the past year, Dave Olson has lead our team in the process of trying to buy this building, but there were so many obstacles in the way that it seemed more and more unlikely that we would pull it off. Finally, yesterday, after countless hours of work, we closed on the building and it is a reality!
We are not planning on moving directly into the new facility as a replacement to our current one, but using it as a growth facility and overflow. We’ll move some of our manufacturing, like contract work, coolers, etc.. to the new factory, and grow from there. We have had an awesome oven sitting under a tarp for the past year waiting on a home. Finally we have a home for this new oven. From the outside, nothing will seem different at Jackson Kayak. On the inside, there is a lot of excitement, knowing that we can continue to pursue our passion to make great products, and work on new, innovative, relevant, products that we can share with you to help make your time in the outdoors even more fun, more productive, and safer as well.
Here is a Video that Nick Made showing off our awesome people at our current factory. I can only imagine what we will be able to accomplish now that space is no longer a limiting factor!
We are very lucky that I decided back in 2004 to make TN the home of Jackson Kayak. Our move to White County in the Upper Cumberland area in Sparta, was our second great move. Our local, county, regional, and state governments have been very supportive of our business and should be used as examples around the USA of how the government should work in conjunction with business. Instead of trying to throw hurdles that take time, money, and energy to overcome, they ask “How can we help you?”. The result is that we are able to grow and employ more Americans, right here in our home town, to make awesome products that we ship around the world. While we are not a big business, we are a big employer in a small town. From our governor (Haslam) down, they “get it” and understand that it isn’t easy to run a business anywhere and the success or failure of a business depends on many factors and the support or hinderance of the governments is one of those factors. So, we at Jackson Kayak want to say, “Thank you TN, Cumberland Region, White County, and Sparta!”
The State of Tennessee put out this press release yesterday about our new factory and our business.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Erin Holt, TNECD Wednesday, April 15, 2015 OFFICE: (615) 532-1925
GOVERNOR HASLAM, COMMISSIONER BOYD ANNOUNCE JACKSON KAYAK TO EXPAND, OPEN NEW FACILITY IN WHITE COUNTY Recreational Products Manufacturer to Invest $6.5 Million, Create 250 New Jobs
NASHVILLE—Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd along with Jackson Kayak officials announced the company will invest $6.5 million to expand their current operations in Tennessee by opening a new manufacturing facility in Sparta at 3300 McMinnville Highway, the former Philips Lighting building. This expansion will create 250 new jobs in White County.
“We want to thank Jackson Kayak for expanding in Tennessee and creating these new jobs in Sparta and White County,” Haslam said. “In Tennessee we still make things. Whether its cars or kayaks and coolers, Tennesseans have a reputation for quality, well-made products, and these new jobs are another step in our efforts to become the No. 1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”
“Jackson Kayak is one of our state’s great success stories,” Boyd said. “They started from a small operation and have continued to grow, thanks to a reputation for making the absolute highest quality products, which are now popular all over the world. I am very excited to support Jackson Kayak’s expansion in Tennessee and appreciate the new jobs they are bringing to our communities and the impact this will have on White County and surrounding areas.”
Jackson Kayak produces whitewater, recreational, fishing and hunting kayaks and high performance coolers. The company has reached its manufacturing capacity in its current 100,000 square foot facility in Sparta, which is located at 325 Iris Dr. Due to the international popularity of the Jackson Kayak brand and the launch of the new Orion cooler line, the company anticipates sales to double over the next five years.
“In 2002, after 8 years of living in an RV full-time with my family, we decided to start our own business. After traveling most of the USA every year, we chose White County and Rock Island as our favorite place to settle down,” Jackson Kayak President/Owner Eric Jackson said. “We originally moved here for the beauty of the area, the temperate weather, the great kayaking and the low cost of living. Then, when we started our business in the fall of 2003, we were
very pleasantly greeted with an awesome work force and a very gracious and accommodating county, region, and state. I can’t imagine a better place to live and do business than White County and TN. We are looking forward to our next chapter in White County with our new 300,000 square foot facility where we intend to continue to grow our business and workforce! Thank you White County, Tennessee!”
With this additional space, Jackson Kayak will be able to expand manufacturing operations, bring in currently outsourced processes and house a new research and development center.
“For over a decade, Jackson Kayak has proven to be a wonderful addition to this community, and I am so pleased to see them expand into the former Philips Lighting facility and create these new jobs,” White County Executive Denny Wayne Robinson said. “This expansion will make a real difference in the lives of so many people who live in White County. I want to thank everyone who worked so diligently for their help in making this happen.”
“Our partnership with Jackson Kayak started in 2010 when we were able to provide capital for them to buy a vacant building in White County,” Mark Farley, Upper Cumberland Development District Executive Director, said. “Since their move to White County, they have expanded twice and have added over 100 employees. We are now partnering with Jackson Kayak on another expansion that will be adding approximately 250 new employees. We are proud to have been a partner with Jackson Kayak throughout the years. They are a vital part of our local and regional economy with a global footprint offering quality products to customers and providing job opportunities in our communities.”
Production is scheduled to begin production in the new facility by the end of this year. Check www.jacksonkayak.com for updates on hiring.
Sparta and White County are represented by Sen. Paul Bailey (R – Sparta) and Rep. Kevin Dunlap (D – Rock Island).
About Jackson Kayak
Founded in 2003 by Whitewater Hall of Famer Eric Jackson and Tony Lunt. Independently owned and American made, Jackson Kayak is the world’s leader in the design and manufacturing of whitewater and fishing kayaks. The company also produces recreational and touring kayaks for paddlers of all ages. For complete information about the company’s products and lifestyle, visit the Jackson Kayak website. Jackson Kayak also founded World Kayak, a hub for the latest news, kayak events and conversations around the world and Paddle Education, the leading online portal for instructional videos and tips for kayaking of all
kinds including fishing, touring, whitewater, creekboating, and stand up paddling. In 2014, the company began manufacturing and selling American-tough Orion Coolers..
About the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development
Tennessee was named 2014 and 2013 “State of the Year” for economic development by Business Facilities magazine. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s mission is to develop strategies which help make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. The department seeks to attract new corporate investment in Tennessee and works with Tennessee companies to facilitate expansion and economic growth. Find us on the web: tnecd.com. Follow us on Twitter: @tnecd. Like us on Facebook: facebook.com/tnecd.
See you on the water!