Sale saves Nichols Brothers

They’re celebrating in Freeland now that Nichols Brothers Boat Builders is hiring again after a Federal Bankruptcy Court on Friday approved the sale of the company.

The sale approval prompted a relieved Matt Nichols, CEO of the company, to say, “This worked out just fine ... we’ll bring the entire crew back as soon as we can, but it’s a step process.”

The company will retain its name under ownership of Ice Floe LLC, which has its roots in Alaska and the Joe Usibelli coal mining family. Ice Floe is backed by Treadstone Capital Management, L.P., of Dallas.

“Nichols Bros. is one of the leading boat builders on the West Coast, with an outstanding reputation for building quality products,” said Michael Donohoe of Treadstone in a news release. “The company has gone through a trying period as a result of litigation and capital constraints. This sale allows the company to move forward free of those restraints.”

Nichols Brothers, founded in 1964, declared bankruptcy and laid off most of its workforce last November. It was facing a lawsuit brought by a disgruntled customer and couldn’t raise capital to keep operating. Some workers were later hired back by specific boat owners to finish construction in the Freeland yard.

Matt Nichols said about 60 workers are presently employed. More hiring will start immediately, even before the sale becomes final Feb. 12. He expects to keep his job with the company he was raised with. “I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “I guess I’ve got a job.”

The buyers didn’t get the land, which Matt and his wife Cassie still own, and won’t have to contend with the lawsuit, which Nichols is left to deal with himself.

He sees a lot of work coming the company’s way in the near future, and is optimistic that Nichols Brothers is entering a new era. “These people can put money in the company and bring it to the next level,” he said.

There was one other bidder, Crawley Maritime, which has purchased tugs from Nichols Brothers in the past. They later dropped out of the bidding.

There’s enough work lined up to keep a full crew of about 150 working through the end of the year, Nichols said. The company is hoping to bid on the new Washington State Ferry contract this month, in a joint venture with Todd Shipyard of Seattle and Martinac Shipyard of Tacoma.

“We’ve got a lot of new work, it looks good,” Nichols said. “We’ll get the crew back as soon as we can.” When operating full-bore, the company employes as many as 250 well-paid workers.

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