Freshly moved in March to a much larger assembly plant in Little Rock, Waco Manufacturing aims to grow its family business as the oldest pontoon boat manufacturer in the South.
“We are committed to continued growth,” says company president and CEO Tom Cox, whose father Charles F. Cox and great-uncle WJ Waymack founded Waco in 1960. that our current staff of 80 will increase to up to 150 over the next two years. And we plan to open a second manufacturing facility in Florida this fall.
Cox’s wife, Elizabeth, whom he met at a boat show, handles the administrative work of Waco, whose name is an amalgamation of the first two letters of “Waymack” and the first two letters of ” Cox”.
Son Trey, a former star quarterback from North Little Rock High School, works assembling Aloha Pontoon Boats after a stint as the Razorbacks’ assistant receiver coach at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville .
“Trey’s role here will continue to expand,” Cox says, “as he progresses to leading our Aloha Pontoon assembly department.”
Pontoon boats are one of the company’s three product lines, along with Waco Aluminum Jon Boats and Edge Duck Boats. The covid outbreak challenged the company from March 2020 as it did almost everything, but not entirely in a negative way.
“The pandemic has severely disrupted our operations as employees contracted the virus and their loved ones contracted it,” Cox said. “We also have employees with young children whose schools have been closed, especially during the first year of covid.
“And we’re still struggling with severe shortages in the supply chain of the materials needed to complete our products, as well as the challenges presented by rising inflation. But we’ve been given a silver lining, and that’s that many people have turned to outdoor recreational activities such as boating.”
Waco faced an even tougher challenge when the Great Recession hit in 2008. Consumer demand for recreational boats plummeted to the point that the company’s production dropped from four or five boats a day to one only. The layoffs became necessary as the workforce fell to 22, before rising nearly fourfold as growth plans continue.
Cox calls the recent move from North Little Rock to the four-building complex at 11850 Arch St. “one of my most rewarding experiences in Waco.” He started working for the family business at the age of 12 in May 1983 – “mainly in the factory for the first few years. I always do assembly work myself. I like to be active and present with our associates every day.”
The Aloha catalog opens with a captivating slogan: “Let the dreamer loose”. Pontoon models go by enticing names like Paradise, Tropical and Patriot. The Patriot is presented as an improved revival of a “limited edition” series previously manufactured in 2002-2004.
Many Aloha sales are made through a network of some 75 boat dealers and marinas across the United States. Some boats are exported to Australia. The company also customizes and renovates its customers’ boats.
Cox calls his squad “resilient, as evidenced by everything he’s endured over the past three years.” On the Aloha assembly lines, staff continue to deal with new design changes in what they call “an extremely popular form of navigation that continues to evolve.” The largest Alohas today are 32 feet long, but plans call for models 40 to 50 feet long.
Personally, Cox is a boating enthusiast. “I love being on the water, it’s one of the reasons I was drawn to this industry,” he says. “My favorite is Lake Ouachita. My wife and I go there as often as possible. I think it helps to cool down mentally being out on the water.”