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Business Pulse - What a catch! Kayak business lands here
Eric Jackson with fish.jpg
Warren County has hooked a winner. Four-time world champion freestyle kayaking champion Eric Jackson is starting his new business, Apex Watercraft, in McMinnville. The company will specialize in high-performance fishing kayaks.

Here’s local news that’s really making a splash involving Eric Jackson, everyone’s favorite world-class kayaker.

If you recall, it was about a month ago when I reported Jackson, affectionately known as E.J., had stepped down as president of the company he founded 15 years ago, Jackson Kayak. It didn’t take long for him to find new waters to explore as he’s started a company called Apex Watercraft.

Now here’s the best part. Apex Watercraft is launching its operation right here in Warren County at the plant on Gilispie Road currently occupied by Towee Boats. It will be a partnership of sorts with Towee Boats owner Todd Gregory overseeing production for Apex Watercraft while E.J. is the sole owner.

“We hope to change the way people look at fishing kayaks,” said Steve Fisher, a world-class kayaker himself who is handling marketing for Apex Watercraft. “Our boats will be entirely different.”

Folks who have followed the Jackson Kayak story know Eric Jackson started the business 15 years ago in a tiny shop overlooking Rock Island State Park. The business has experienced tremendous growth and now employees some 150 people at a massive plant just over the county line in White County.

But as Fisher explained to me in a Friday night phone interview, that growth created new dynamics. He said Jackson suddenly found himself not calling the shots at a company bearing his name. This was an awkward experience.

So Jackson, 55, delivered the shocking news in December that he was stepping down as president of his own company. It didn’t take long for him to reel in a new adventure.

“This all came together very quickly,” said Fisher. “E.J. went out and assembled a bit of an A Team to make everything flow well. We’ve already moved into the Towee Boats facility and we’re doing R&D right now. We should be able to build our first prototype boat to put in the water in a few weeks. We don’t want to overpromise and under deliver, but we think we can have boats ready to purchase this spring.”

Fisher said it won’t be a mass production operation. He said quality would be stressed more than quantity and the initial goal will be to build one kayak a day.

“E.J.’s reputation and following allows us to start on the higher end,” said Fisher. “We’ll be working with higher quality and fewer numbers. Someone without E.J.’s name probably wouldn’t be able to jump right in on such a high-performance level.”

Apex Watercraft will be producing carbon composite kayaks, which are much lighter than traditional plastic. Fisher said the lightest boat manufactured by Jackson Kayak weighs 75 pounds. In comparison, Apex will produce a 35-pound kayak.

“It will be a lighter, quieter, faster fishing kayak,” said Fisher. “You’ll be able to carry it with one arm. This is something E.J.’s had in his mind for years and he’s raised the subject several times at Jackson Kayak, but it’s something they refused to build.”

In a recently published interview with Paddling Magazine, Jackson was quoted as saying, “I think it’s the right time to try something different, the opposite of a big conglomerate. I don’t have outside investment and can make every decision on my own. I think a small and nimble company can navigate the industry better right now than the big brands.”

Jackson said he will not be competing against Jackson Kayak and will still serve as an ambassador for the company.

As for job projections, Fisher said Apex Watercraft will probably start with around five employees. He said that’s a good place to start and pointed out Jackson Kayak started with just three.

Jobs are always nice to add to our workforce, but an added benefit is having a kayak manufacturer here in our community as we’re trying to promote ourselves as more outdoorsy. It’s even more impactful with Eric Jackson at the helm.

You could say this is certainly a big catch for Warren County. In terms of fishing stories, it’s one that didn’t get away.

I hope to tour the Apex Watercraft facility when production gets underway and provide more information at that point.

Get A


Goody’s is taking a bow and making its way out of Three Star Mall. In its place will be Gordmans, a chain that says it’s committed to putting the fun back in shopping.

March 31 is the announced date for 15 Gordmans to open in Tennessee, including our store in McMinnville. To prepare for this glorious occasion, a job fair will be held this Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Goody’s.

If you’ve been eyeing a promising job in retail, now is the time to leap. Gordmans is hiring for a variety of full-time, part-time and temporary positions. Best of all, the company says it offers competitive wages.

Gordmans is part of the Stage community of stores. Stage is converting its Goody’s, Peebles and other department store name plates to Gordmans this year. Gordmans touts itself as offering popular brands at prices way lower than you’d ever dream, provided people dream about clothing prices.

Anyone interested in a job at Gordmans is invited to first apply online at and then visit the job fair this Tuesday. However, applying online is not required as walk-ins are welcome.

Of the 15 Gordmans scheduled to open in late March, 13 are currently Goody’s and two are Peebles.

Buildings gone

On Chancery

The property probably best known as the old Shockley Carpet facility has a bit of new-carpet smell after two buildings near the road were leveled a few days ago.

Property owner and developer Waymon Hale had the buildings removed as part of a revitalization project. My initial reaction is the property looks so much better -- and will be so much more marketable – with those buildings gone.

What’s left is a large warehouse structure at the back of the property. That building will remain with much modification.

“We’re going to put a nice front on it and make it look a whole lot better,” said Waymon. “We’re going to pave the parking lot and get it looking nice and see if we can’t bring some new business to Chancery Street.”

Waymon says he’s received several calls about the property and he doesn’t foresee a problem in finding a new tenant or tenants. He said nothing is definite now and he will adjust his final plans depending on whether one person wants the entire building or if he’s going to subdivide it.

He said he doesn’t have a timeline for completion.

“We’ll work it in and get it done as soon as we can,” said Waymon. “Right now we’re slammed with work. It’s a busy time.”

This will be a definite upgrade for our fine city. It starts one property at a time and the editors of Business Pulse appreciate Waymon’s efforts.

Same faces,

But new owner

Charles A. Blair and Wally Stern are still the friendly faces you’ll see when you stop by A2Z Insurance. But the company, which has offices in McMinnville and Brentwood, is now under the ownership of Tom Ahles, who seems like a great guy.

“I think people are all pretty much the same in that we all want to be taken care of,” said Tom. “We don’t want to be connected to a phone tree where you can’t talk to a person. We want customer service from people we know, not some 800 number. When you come in here, you’re talking to a person who knows you.”

Tom will primarily work from the Brentwood office, but he was in McMinnville on Monday and says the local agency is in great hands.

“These guys are downhome, good-hearted people and that goes a long way for an insurance agency,” said Tom. “At the end of the day, it’s always about understanding the customer and what’s the best value for them for their situation at the time.”

Big A and Wally want to assure their customers they aren’t going anywhere and they’ll still be on the job at the local office at 477 N. Chancery Street. The phone number is 507-2442.

“Independent agents want to have access to as many companies as possible because it’s better for the customer,” said Blair. “That’s the beauty of being independent. One company may have a better deal on one thing, while another company has a better deal on something else.”

That’s all folks

A wise man once said you can’t change the wind, but you can adjust your sails. Have a great Super Bowl party and try to dodge the flu.

Email your business tips to, but remember I’ll be watching the big game Sunday night so I probably won’t respond till Monday.