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Ben Speciale

Read profile of Yamaha Marine President Ben Speciale

Read profile of Yamaha Marine President Ben Speciale in November Edge magazine. Speciale is a Rhea County native who now heads Yamaha Marine Group.

America's biggest manufacturer of midsize sports boats is riding the rising economic tide with plans for a $17.7 million expansion of its boat production plant in Vonore, Tenn.

Yamaha Jet Boat Manufacturing USA announced Monday it will buy a building adjacent to its current facility in Monroe County and add 150 jobs by the end of next year. The new production site should be operational by the end of 2015 and boat building should begin in mid- to late-2016.

"Having just completed a plant expansion in 2013, we are excited to continue to invest and grow our production operation in Monroe County," Mike Fishback, the company's general manager, said in the company's announcement of the expansion Monday. "We have one of the most innovative boat manufacturing facilities in the world which has enabled Yamaha boats to continue to be the best-selling 16-foot to 25-foot family runabout boats in the industry."

The new facility will add more than 36,000 square feet of production and office space to its facility on Tellico Lake near Vonore.

"Our regional economy will greatly benefit from the new jobs being created," Monroe County Mayor and Tellico Reservoir Development Agency Board Member Tim Yates said.

The Yamaha Marine Group, a subisdiary of Yamaha Motors, has put a strong anchor in the Southeast since the company moved its headquarters from Southern California to Kennesaw, Ga., 15 years ago. Yamaha also maintains its state-of-the-art test facility on the Tennessee River in Bridgeport, Ala.

Yamaha Marine Group has been headed for the past four years by Rhea County native Ben Speciale.

"When you do testing you want stability," Speciale told Edge magazine, a monthly business publication produced by the Times Free Press. "Primarily we like this area because of the stability of the water."

Boat sales have been anything but stable over the past decade, however. After sinking during the Great Recession, marine retailers boosted sales by 10.7 percent in 2012, another 2.2 percent last year and are projected to finish 2014 with another gain of 5 to 7 percent, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Reporter Jim Tanner contributed to this report.

Contact Dave Flessner at