YakAttack steps in

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, December 20, 2018

Gov. Northam announces 34 new jobs

Wednesday was a brisk, gorgeous day for Prince Edward County in more ways than one.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam came to Farmville, announcing that YakAttack, LLC, a leading manufacturer of kayak fishing accessories, will relocate its swiftly growing operation to the STEPS Centre on Industrial Park Road.

A press release from the Office of the Governor cited that the project includes an investment of $3.4 million and that Virginia successfully competed with South Carolina for the project, which will create 34 new jobs in the community.

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“We have the right team, the right brand and the right vision, and now in Prince Edward County, we have the right home,” said YakAttack Founder and President Luther Cifers at Wednesday’s press conference, which took place next to the STEPS Centre.

When Northam spoke, he directed his congratulations first to Cifers.

“Luther, I couldn’t be happier to be here with you today to make this announcement, and I want to thank you for doing business in the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said. “Another point that I would like to make with everybody is that tourism is a large part of our economy, millions of dollars in the commonwealth of Virginia. As a matter of fact, it’s the fifth-largest industry in Virginia right now, and what a great way to promote tourism with kayaking …”

Northam acknowledged the team effort that was required to make possible Prince Edward’s new economic opportunity, expressing his appreciation for Del. James Edmunds, representatives of Prince Edward County, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.

After presenting Cifers with the flag of the county, Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors Chair Pattie Cooper-Jones made clear the county’s resolve in connection with his company’s move.

“We commit to you our pledge to make this the best business decision you have ever made,” she said. “The board of supervisors is very aware that the economic destiny of our community is linked to choices we make in welcoming new corporate citizens and the partners we have within our community.”

Among the people and governing bodies she recognized during the press conference were Town Manager Gerald Spates, Farmville Mayor David Whitus, the Farmville Town Council, Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett, Assistant County Administrator Sarah Puckett, Prince Edward County Director of Economic Development Kate Pickett Eggleston, county employees and school board members, Joe Hines, Hunter Watson, Cannon Watson, all citizens of the county and the YakAttack team.

Before introducing Gov. Northam, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball gave remarks and noted to Cifers that “this is a wonderful day for Prince Edward County, for Farmville, for Virginia and YakAttack. We thank you so much for what you’re doing here in the commonwealth and here locally.”

Cifers, a native of Amelia County who has lived in central Virginia his entire life, made a point to thank an array of people and organizations Wednesday before getting deep into his remarks at STEPS.

He expressed gratitude to Bartlett, Eggleston, the board of supervisors, the tobacco commission, Gov. Northam, the VEDP and its staff “and everyone else involved for their role in helping to make this facility the new home for YakAttack. Together, we’re strengthening manufacturing in small-town America, creating opportunity and jobs in the process, and the YakAttack team is ready to go to work in Prince Edward County.”

Cifers then offered up a striking history of YakAttack that vividly illustrated what the county will be gaining over the next several weeks as his team executes a plan to move all of the company’s operations to the STEPS Centre.

“YakAttack was started in 2009 on a small workbench in a friend’s basement,” he said. “With simple tools, we built and sold a simple light glued to the end of a PVC pipe, which we called the VISIPole. Our first customer was Appomattox River Company right here in Farmville.”

He noted that YakAttack was originally intended as a hobby business, so he and his friends were surprised when they closed their first year with about $20,000 in sales.

“In terms of business, that’s not a lot, but it showed us that the opportunity was there for a lot more than we thought,” he said. “In 2010, we took the little bit of money that we had made from our first year and every other dollar we could scrape together, and we pulled off a more commercial version of our homemade light, which we called the VISICarbon Pro.”

With that product, YakAttack’s sales tripled, he said.

“This pattern of reinvesting everything we made into new products and creating exponential growth continued, and in 2011, completely out of space, we rented a 3,000-square-foot building in Farmville just a couple miles from here,” he said. “At the time, I wasn’t sure we’d fill it up, but by early 2013, we were out of space again, and after a long search for something that was big enough but that we could still afford, we moved into a 6,000-square-foot space in Burkeville.”

He noted that the company has only grown since then, now operating from three buildings in Burkeville with a total of about 20,000 square feet. The Office of the Governor’s press release describes the STEPS Centre as a 66,000-square-foot space.

“Over 300 products, around 40 employees and closing 2018 with over $4 million in sales, we’re literally bursting at the seams, and absorbing our continued growth is getting more and more difficult,” Cifers said. “Space and data infrastructure are becoming major obstacles for us.”

“YakAttack has as much opportunity in front of it as we can possibly develop in the foreseeable future, and this move to Prince Edward County will enable us to do just that, creating around 50 jobs in the next five years and making significant investments in new design, tooling and manufacturing capabilities in the process,” he said.

Then Cifers delved into the remarkable status of his company, which will now be publically linked with the county.

“Kayak fishing is an exciting, growing sport, and YakAttack is woven into its very fabric,” he said. “We’ve developed multiple industry changing products and, in doing so, have changed the way kayaking anglers rig their kayaks. More often than not, kayak anglers today not only know the name YakAttack, but they probably use one or two of our products.”

“Our reputation and brand loyalty are second to none, and our customers can often be identified by the YakAttack decals they proudly sport on their kayaks, trucks and cars or the YakAttack apparel they wear,” he continued. “Because of these things, YakAttack has grown rapidly over the years, making Inc. Magazine’s list of the fastest growing, privately held companies in the United States for four years in a row and winning multiple industry awards along the way. We’ve established a solid foundation on which to build this next level of growth.”

Cifers’ personal story that he shared in detail presented an arresting example of the American Dream fully realized.

“As a young kid with no skills and career and later on as this kind of homegrown engineer, I remember sitting at this stoplight up here, right behind me, literally thousands of times after work, looking at what was first the Craddock Terry and later the STEPS building, wondering what was going on inside,” he said Wednesday. “And I could have never imagined that one day we would be manufacturing our own products for our own brand in a facility like this or that a group of people such as the one gathered here today would assemble to celebrate it with us, and for that, I’m both humbled and grateful.”

Toward the end of the press conference, Edmunds said, “I can tell you that I am really, really excited, not just because of the investment that they’ve made here, but can you think of a better community partner than YakAttack after hearing his story? I really appreciate sincerely what you’ve been through and what you’re doing with this community.”

In the Office of the Governor’s press release, state Sen. Mark Peake said, “I’m happy that a company which started in a Virginia garage less than 10 years ago is growing and continuing to create jobs and opportunity here in Virginia. It is great to have a company like YakAttack in the heart of Virginia.”

State Sen. Frank Ruff, chairman of the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment Commission, said in the release, “There is no better place for a company like YakAttack than south central Virginia, where outdoor sports and recreation are a central part of the lifestyle.”

Northam said that at the end of the day, “our most important priority is the economy in Virginia. We want to make sure that every Virginian has a job that they can support themselves and their families with, no matter who you are, no matter where you are in Virginia. And our unemployment right now in Virginia is at 2.9 percent. It’s the lowest it’s been in over 10 years, but there are some areas of Virginia — especially rural Virginia — where we still have a lot of work to do. So we really encourage businesses like yours, Luther, small businesses, startup businesses, these are really the backbone of our economy. So once again, I just congratulate you, and I thank you for choosing to do business in Virginia.”

Emphasizing stewardship, Cifers said near the end of his remarks that “people have believed in us to make today possible, and we’re committed to doing something great with this opportunity.”

Cooper-Jones, who concluded the press conference, said to Cifers, “My final message is that Prince Edward County stands ready to work in an aggressive, innovative and timely manner to address the needs of your new and expanding business.”