Big River Propeller comes to La Center
La Center - Friday brought with it celebration as Ballard County welcomed a new business to La Center. Several in the county came out to a ribbon cutting ceremony in honor of a new propeller repair operation that will bring jobs to the county.
Big River Propeller specializes in repairing damaged propellers from riverboats and tugs-“push boats”. Plans for the next 6 months to one year are to sell, repair, and customize smaller propellers off of outboard motors for local boaters.
Sam Davis, the owner of Big River Propeller, chose the La Center location for the business so it would be situated where the two rivers meet and be between Paducah and Cape Girardeau.
For over a year, Davis’ son Tyler scoured US Hwy 60 for a location that would work for Big River Propeller. Parking and access were of high concern for choosing the location as well as building height. The ceiling had to be high enough to accommodate the propellers, which span in diameter up to 10 feet. In addition, the location needed to provide a lot of room for the egress and ingress of trucks off of Hwy 60.
After finding a building that was suited for his needs, Sam Davis worked with owner John Summers and First Community Bank representative Greg Gunner to secure the building. “If it wasn’t for you two, we wouldn’t be here,” Davis said to Summers and Gunner. The whole process took about three or four years, according to Davis.
Davis then began renovations, which included installing equipment such as a 5-ton overhead hoist and an overhead door where an 18-wheeler could back in to unload a propeller.
Big River Propeller currently employs 5 people that make up the senior management group, and the business has plans to employ 25 individuals within three years. The long-term plan is to employ 40 people by year five. “Most employees will come from the local community,” Davis said. “It is hard to find the kind of people to do this,” he added.
Big River Propeller is a family business; Sam Davis’ wife and two sons, Chris and Tyler, work right alongside of him. Prior to coming to work at Big River Propeller, Tyler worked as the assistant manager of the Lowe’s in Cape Girardeau. Chris will work part-time at Big River Propeller while continuing to work at the Sikeston Lowe’s. “A lot of people stepped out in faith,” Davis said regarding Big River Propeller employees giving up good jobs to join in on this business venture.
Davis’ daughter and her husband, Scott Hitchings, have relocated from Jacksonville to come help with the business. Davis said he hopes to hand down the propeller business to his children and, eventually, his grandchildren.
Sam Davis and his wife are from the Cape Girardeau area. Davis has 33 years experience working on propellers. He says he is very familiar with working on Navy destroyers and custom yachts. Davis spent 17 years working in Cape Girardeau at Missouri Dry Dock. He has also worked at BAE Systems Ship Repair in Jacksonville, Florida, where he served as senior manager for 12 years. In addition, Davis worked as an operations manager at Houston Marine in Texas for 4 years.
Marty Hendershott will serve as manager of Big River Propeller. Like Davis, Hendershott also worked at Missouri Dry Dock. a job he held for 22 years.
Davis says he plans on bringing in propellers from BAE Systems Ship Repair in Jacksonville, as well as from New Orleans, and from all along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. In addition, the business expects to receive propellers from both the west and east coasts.