By Andrea Vasquez
Viking Yachts – one of the world’s most recognized names in luxury sport-fishing boats – is and always has been made in New Jersey, but in 1964, when then 20-year-old Rudy Dalinger started working at Viking, the job wasn’t much to brag about.
“At the beginning when you used to go to boat shows, you wouldn’t want to show your name that you worked at Viking because at that time we were the laughing stock of the industry,” said Dalinger.
50 years later, as Viking Yachts – and Rudy – celebrate a golden anniversary, the New Gretna company is the industry’s leading producer of sport-fishing boats.
Boat-building has been in the state’s DNA for centuries. And as other ship-builders closed down, Viking has remained buoyant by staying privately owned and in the hands of the Healey family.
The company has grown from about 30 employees to more than 1,000 between its New Jersey headquarters and Florida location — putting it among Burlington county’s top employers. But Healey said the state has not made it easy.
Healey said states like North Carolina threaten to lure Viking away with the siren call of tax incentives. Critics have called the Garden State unfriendly toward businesses, and the industry magazine chief executive ranked New Jersey the 47th worst state for businesses. Even last year’s lauded economic opportunity act gives priority to new or relocating businesses.
“It’s been a difficult, difficult, difficult state. We’re big business to the south but tin the whole scheme of things we’re not. The state has not been pro-business, the state has not been pro-manufacturing for a long time.” said Healey.
Healey says Viking will stay put for now and its focus remains on its product. as we toured the 810-thousand-square-foot plant, workers turned raw material into yachts to be sold internationally for 1 to 9 million dollars.
It takes about six to seven months to get to this finished product, and nearly everything from the hull to the upholstery is made just inside. By the end of this fiscal year, Viking Yacht company will have made about 60 yachts, ranging from about 42 to 92 feet long.
Healey and his employees largely credit the company’s family culture for its endurance. When the recession forced layoffs, Viking continued health coverage for furloughed and laid off workers and after Sandy claimed dozens of employees’ homes, the company bought mattresses and collected clothes for their families.
“I love it here. I’ve been here since I was young. I grew up here, they took care of me. I get paid every week, I haven’t missed a paycheck in 20 years. Family atmosphere,” said John Thronton.
When asked how long he plans to stay at Viking, Dalinger said, “As long as I stay healthy and I can contribute. As long as I don’t become a burden, I like to work, and this is what I want to do.”
Just as Dalinger plans to continue working at Viking, the company plans to continue building ships in New Jersey.