Made in Charlotte County

March 18th, 2024

By Nancy Semon - Gulfshore Business

Made in Charlotte County

Products used by consumers and industry are being manufactured in Charlotte County. Some of the companies were founded elsewhere, but for various reasons, their owners and corporate leaders chose the county for their centers of operations.

Inflatable indoor parks and rides, fencing around pools, heavy equipment and roof racks for vehicles are things you see every day, but may not realize were manufactured in and shipped from Charlotte County.

Positive Inflation

The Whincup family’s Galaxy Multi Rides got its start in the U.K., after Robin Whincup started a side business renting out a bounce house that he purchased in the 1980s. At that time, he and his wife Kate, a nurse, were running a contracting business, installing flooring for hotels, nursing homes and other large commercial projects.

“But we were always looking for a second income,” he says, explaining that the couple had five children to support. His son Mike later joined the family business and “we saw the potential as our inflatable business grew,” he says.

The family decided to concentrate on its inflatable enterprise and began to manufacture custom-made rides and inflatable games. Then large orders came in for indoor amusement parks. If you’ve ever taken a child or grandchild to a Sky Zone, Castle Fun Center or the Jumpin Fun Inflata Park in Sarasota, you have seen a Galaxy Multi Rides-made product.

The move to the U.S. began when, on a trip to an industry convention held in Dallas, Robin Whincup realized that most of his business was coming from the U.S. Having vacationed in Southwest Florida for a number of years because the family enjoyed the beach, outdoor spaces and American culture, the Whincups packed up and moved to Charlotte County in 2008. There, they found a warehouse in Port Charlotte that would accommodate their manufacturing enterprise on a large scale.

The demand for indoor inflatable amusement parks grew. “We manufactured and sold 75 of these parks over the last five years,” he says.

Although U.S. companies and individuals provide the firm’s biggest purchasers, the company’s products have been shipped to Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Falkland Islands, Guyana and Kazakhstan.

The company also makes inflatable mechanical bulls whose heads can be exchanged with other animal heads. This year an order came in for a number of mechanical reindeer. The good thing about inflatable mechanical bulls is that everything is soft, and if you’re thrown from the bull, you land on a soft, inflatable floor.

Safety for Sale

Baby Barrier manufactures pool fencing from its warehouse in Punta Gorda and ships the potentially lifesaving product nationwide.

“Most of our customers are from Florida and California,” says co-owner Michelle Walter. Her partner, David Flury, said a number of customers also install pool fencing to protect their pets that can’t swim.

According to the CDC, more children ages 1-4 die from drowning than from any other cause of death, and it is the second leading cause, after motor vehicle accidents, for children ages 5-14.

Heavy Duty

Marden Industries and Supertrak, whose manufacturing firm is located near the Punta Gorda Airport, is a dealer for the Fat Truck brand, which manufactures an amphibious vehicle. Company President Tom King said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission purchased a Fat Truck, and it crossed the Peace River during Hurricane Ian.

Marden Industries/Supertrak manufactures components to armor vehicles for the U.S. Army, whose humanitarian demining group searches for landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in war-torn countries.

The company also makes “mulchers,” heavy machinery that clears vacant lots, farmland and ranchland, and mows under power lines. It purchases Caterpillar equipment and makes upgrades, including enhanced hydraulics for customized machinery, King said.

Recently, a new fiber-optic cable system was being installed in Punta Gorda, and “if you see a pickup with a compressor,” chances are you’re seeing a Marden Industries/Supertrak machine at work, he said.

Fantastic Voyage

Another company with a recognizable brand name manufactures customized roof racks for Range Rovers and other vehicles. Andrew Nix’s Voyager Offroad LLC specializes in the design and fabrication, which is completed at the company’s Port Charlotte warehouse.

Nix brought his company from Portland, Oregon, where he founded the company in 2001, to Port Charlotte in 2006. “We only use American alloys and we do not outsource any of our work to foreign entities,” he says.

The name “Voyager” is the company’s registered trademark. But there is a more glamorous side to what Voyager does: “We provide filming crews with the gear they need to film movies, commercials and music videos,” Nix says.

That movie equipment includes roof racks, side ladders and metal cages. He said a Voyager rack was used on the “fastest film car on earth,” holding the camera that filmed Netflix’s “Stranger Things” Season 4, Bad Boys for LifeJumanji: The Next Level and dozens of series and movies. A Voyager rack and side ladder also was featured in the Marvel movie Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Voyager racks have been shipped as far as Australia, Japan and Europe, Nix said. But, more importantly, his vehicle racks “have saved lives in rollover accidents and are used taking thousands of families on road trips,” he says.

Drawing Focus

In November 2023, Economic Development Director Dave Gammon spoke to a group of Southwest Florida business professionals about the amount of commercial development happening in Charlotte County, and where future growth is headed.

He said several national companies have shown interest in an 800,000-square-foot spec building near the Punta Gorda airport. “Between last year and this year, we have more than 840,000 square feet now being built or finished,” Gammon says.

He also said that during the airport’s first 70 years, about that same amount of commercial space has been built, so the square footage has doubled in just the last two years.

Gammon said that within the next three years, some 1.5 million square feet of commercial space is expected to be filled. He credits Cheney Brothers, which in 2015 completed its 345,000-square-foot distribution center adjacent to the airport, with paving the way for other large firms to follow.

Original Article Featured in Gulfshore Business.

Nancy Semon