BRP shows off Sturtevant Evinrude Plant

Via The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The maker of Evinrude outboard engines has completed a $15 million renovation at its plant in Sturtevant, including the move of 136 jobs from an engineering and product development center in Waukegan, Ill.

Tuesday, Bombardier Recreational Products, known as BRP, hosted an open house at the Sturtevant plant that employs 540 people and has undergone an extensive makeover.

The Canada-based company has made Sturtevant its world headquarters for the Evinrude brand, which was founded by Ole Evinrude in Milwaukee in 1907 and has undergone multiple ownership changes.

Elsewhere, Bombardier makes snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, watercraft and three-wheel motorcycles.

The Sturtevant plant covers 470,000 square feet and was once a Golden Books publishing plant.

Much of the recent renovation included moving engineering, research and development, and training operations from Waukegan.

Bombardier now makes the bulk of its Evinrude engines, up to 300 horsepower, in Sturtevant. Most of the production is done on an assembly line that can handle different products at the same time.

One small-engine line was repatriated from China, said Frank Bailey, director of operations.

The product mix is dictated by market demand, and the plant has room for additional production capacity.

“We are setting up for much larger volumes than we have now,” said Alain Villemure, vice president and general manager of the company’s outboard engine division.

The boating industry is in a little calmer water these days, with modest sales gains expected this year after coming out of the worst period in recent history.

That’s important in Wisconsin, where outboard engine makers Bombardier and Mercury Marine Inc. employ several thousand people, along with yacht builders Cruisers, Carver, Marquis, Palmer Johnson and Burger.

The industry isn’t going to measure against 2006 and 2007, which were boom years, but recreational boat sales were up 5% in 2011 from 2010, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

It’s been a slow recovery from a steep downturn, Villemure said.

Bombardier Recreational Products bought the Johnson and Evinrude brands in 2001 from bankrupt Outboard Marine Corp. That company once had plants in Milwaukee and Waukegan with a combined 800 employees.

Bombardier owns vacant land south of the Sturtevant plant that could be used for an expansion.

“But we can absorb a significant production volume increase with the existing plant. I think we are in a good position from that standpoint,” Villemure said.