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WATERTOWN — MetalCraft Marine US, a Kingston, Ontario-based company that manufactured a prototype unmanned vessel for the U.S. Coast Guard, has received a more than $554,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, announced Wednesday that MetalCraft Marine US, Inc. in Watertown obtained the $554,237 grant from the DOT’s Maritime Administration program. Both she and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., helped arrange for the funding.

Last summer, MetalCraft moved into a Watertown plant on Fisher Road in the Jefferson County Corporate Park, where it manufactures a variety of high-powered aluminum patrol, fire and work boats. The company has contracts with the Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Marines and with such countries as Kuwait, Brazil, Grenada and the Dominican Republic.

Last summer, the company got some attention when an unusual-looking boat turned heads when it was spotted in the St. Lawrence River, near Cape Vincent, with no one driving it. The prototype unmanned vessel was built for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Bob Clark, MetalCraft’s contract manager who works out of the company’s Kingston manufacturing and design facility, was sitting at his desk Wednesday afternoon when he received an email from the congresswoman notifying him of the grant.

“Holy jump, that’s fantastic news,” he said.

The company plans to acquire a metal cutting table, rotator jig and a sandblast booth to make its operations more productive and efficient for all products, he said. The equipment will be able to save a day or two in shipping from Kingston — and its costs to do so — if some metal material isn’t cut correctly or there’s a missing part, he explained.

MetalCraft has applied for the funding for the past decade, but came up empty each time. Until now, he said.

“We’ve applied 10 years in a row,” he said, “and we finally get it. Most of our competitors have gotten it in the past and we didn’t know why we didn’t.”

The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency also sent a letter of support for the grant.

When he heard the company’s grant application was successful, David J. Zembiec, executive director of Jefferson County Economic Development, had a three-word reaction: “That’s fantastic news.”

In a news release, Rep. Stefanik said she was proud to help secure “this significant grant.”

“MetalCraft Marine embodies the American entrepreneurial spirit, building world-renowned boats while giving back to our community by working with Fort Drum and community colleges to expand our local workforce,” she said.

In April of last year, the company purchased the 14,600-square-foot manufacturing plant at 22620 Fisher Road for $800,000 from a real estate company that the Purcell family owns.

Operating out of a smaller structure in Cape Vincent for a few years, MetalCraft needed more space to grow, and the Fisher Road building became available after EZ Stack moved to Old Rome State Road.

Today, MetalCraft employs a workforce of 20 employees at the Watertown facility and another 70 in Kingston.

In the last year, MetalCraft has received some national exposure because of that autonomous vessel that glided through the St. Lawrence River last summer.

The Coast Guard completed its testing of the unmanned craft in November to determine if it could be used to enhance its many maritime missions with its 30 days of autonomy and a detection for tampering and intruders. It passed with flying colors, Mr. Clark said.

Another one of its vessels, the Interceptor43/44, was named WorkBoat Magazine’s 2020 Significant Workboat of the Year.

The $1.5 million boat is a high-performance, state-of-the-art patrol craft designed to carry out a range of tasks to support maritime security and border control. It also facilitates counter-terrorism and effective disaster relief.

One of the company’s biggest contracts is with the Navy. It delivered 30 boom boats that assist during oil spill responses. The Navy initially wanted 40 more of the boats and now MetalCraft will produce a total of 94 by the spring of 2022. One will end up in all of the Navy’s bases.

The company also is considered the No. 1 fire boat company in the world.

MetalCraft Marine has designed and built patrol and workboats since 1987, in a location with boat building history dating back to 1676.

While it continually grew throughout the 1990s, MetalCraft began operations in Clayton before relocating up the river to Cape Vincent a few years later.

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