Jason Gardner, a vice president for SeaDek Marine Products, sounds more like an executive in economic development as he explains his company’s focus on tomorrow’s workforce.

For the past five years, SeaDek has worked with students in the Melbourne High School Business Academy, introducing them to various careers in manufacturing — from machine operation and quality control to sales, customer support and accounting. SeaDek is a midsize, mid-tech company in Rockledge that makes a nonabsorbent foam material specifically formulated for marine applications. Durable and shock absorbent, the products provide not only exceptional traction on surfaces, but also protect decks from scratching, chipping and dents. Additionally, its 3M pressure-sensitive adhesive backing makes the application process a matter of measure, cut, peel and stick.

The company’s belief is the more students learn about manufacturing, the better for all.

“Manufacturing really wasn’t on the radar for a lot of these kids,” Gardner explains. “We showed them that manufacturing, as we do it, isn’t in some dark, stinky,
smoke-filled warehouse.”

The program now is in its fifth year, and previously the company worked to help shape curriculums at Eastern Florida State College.

The move has paid off. Further, workforce development hasn’t been the only strategic move to gain traction. When a recession hit just as the company was entering the marketplace about a decade ago, management pivoted away from new buyers and toward the aftermarket of existing marine owners, all the while continuing to innovate.

As a result, when the economy rebounded, SeaDek found fertile business both in the “new” and “existing” markets — a two-pronged approach that has brought double-digit revenue growth since 2010, according to Gardner.

Similarly, thanks to the development of its international certified fabricator and installer networks, SeaDek has successfully developed markets in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe and South America — contributing to a 170 percent increase in overall sales over a three-year period, with exports advancing from less than 3 percent to nearly 10 percent during that same time. SeaDek’s products are exported to a total of 29 countries. Not surprisingly, last April the company received the SBA 2018 Small Business National Exporter of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Also of note, in 2014 SeaDek became an employee-owned company with the implementation of an ESOP profit sharing plan. Explains Gardner, simply: “We try to make them feel like they’re part of the team and part of the family.”

Another form of giving back is evident throughout the community, in time and money, at places like the Brevard Achievement Center, Brevard Zoo, Henegar Center for Performing Arts, One Blood, the Daily Bread, the United Way and Brevard County’s Founders Forum, to name a few.

In characteristic style, Gardner deflects any praise or congratulations. In accepting the company’s award from the SBA last spring, he called the achievement a “collaborative effort.” Today, he continues to use phases such as “unified vision” and “our entire staff.”

Just like what students are hearing from the company about manufacturing, those words from Gardner represent a lesson worth learning.

By: Mike Candelaria