SkipperLiner Industries Inc. shut down operations Friday after suffering under the weight of a recession owner Noel Jordan called "just too long."
The French Island company permanently laid off 55 employees in Wisconsin and eight in Arizona, some of whom had only recently been hired.
Several workers Friday afternoon said they were pulled off a more than $4 million boat order, given the news and then escorted out, the locks changed behind them.
Shawn Volden, 32, was brought on as a painter two months ago, working alongside men who'd built and serviced watercraft at SkipperLiner for more than 30 years.
"They hired me and one other guy at the same time, and then last week they brought on two more people, but everybody's gone as of 2 p.m. this afternoon," Volden said. "Since I wasn't there long enough to collect unemployment, I have to start looking for a job immediately."
The company employed about 100 people before the recession. The ranks dropped as low as 29 before building back to 55, Jordan said.
SkipperLiner just five months ago gained a $175,000 loan from La Crosse County's revolving economic development fund, along with $325,000 from the state.
"We do not have clarity on what the next steps are at this point," county Administrator Steve O'Malley said. No local property tax money went into the loan, which instead came from state sources for the purpose of business development.
"This starts a process of receivership and sale of assets" he said. "We had hoped that this loan would have helped prevent this closure.
"It's unclear what the effect will be on the creditors."
O'Malley said SkipperLiner was current on property taxes - about $40,000 a year to all local governments - until 2009.
The company is past due, though, on 2009 taxes and lease and state loan payments, said Scott Johnson, town of Campbell chairman.
SkipperLiner had repaid a $150,000 loan from 2005, along with $296,000 of $550,000 loaned that same year.
The company filed for Chapter 128 through the state, a voluntary debt assignment plan, appointing a Wausau, Wis., receiver for the company.
"This was an extremely difficulty decision. My family has been involved in this enterprise since 1985, and it is a major part of our lives. Many of those employees let go today have been with the company for 25 years or more. It is tragic that these highly skilled and loyal people will lose their jobs due to this disastrous economy and banking collapse in our industry," Jordan said.
He added he's in the process of registering a new corporation to oversee the La Crosse Queen and North Bay Marina, which will continue to operate.
Huck Finn's On the Water, too, will remain open, said owner Barry Nimtz, who leases the restaurant from SkipperLiner.
"To our knowledge, we're not going anywhere," Nimtz said. "We're just extremely sorry things have turned sour for them."
Tribune reporter Dick Mial contributed to this story.