Buford boat store chain will return relief loans

A fast-growing chain of boating stores headquartered near Lake Lanier is the latest publicly traded company to return relief loans after criticism was leveled at the federal program.

OneWater Marine in Buford obtained multiple loans totaling $14.1 million through the Paycheck Protection Program, but “its financial results were better than expected and the funds were no longer necessary,” the company said in a statement.It returned the money on Wednesday.

OneWater reported quarterly earnings Thursday, with revenue climbing 5% in the first three months of 2020.

Some public companies have returned federal relief loans after some groups said the money was intended to help only small businesses, not large companies with access to liquidity through the stock market. The restaurant chains Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House both returned loans they had received through Paycheck Protection Act.

The boating industry is significant in Georgia, directly employing about 10,000 workers. Many companies build boats, such as Blackshear-based Composite Research Inc., which makes boats under the Sundance, Spyder and Sea Born brands. Yamaha's U.S. motorsports division is headquartered in Kennesaw.

OneWater was formed in 2014 to acquire 14 Singleton Marine stores. Through acquisitions, it now operates about 63 stores under several different names. The company held an initial public offering in February, raising about $55 million.

Most of its dealerships, which sell new and used boats, have remained open “in some capacity” during the COVID-19 shutdown, the company said Thursday. OneWater used virtual walk-throughs and one-on-one sales appointments with consumers to increase revenue in the first quarter.

OneWater did not respond to requests for comment.

Some publicly traded companies based in Georgia plan to keep their loans. Marietta-based MiMedx Group, which makes skin grafts, won't return its $10 million loan. Alimera Sciences in Alpharetta also said it will keep its $1.8 million loan.

In the first round of loans, Georgia companies got about $9.5 billion of the total pot of $349 billion in loans. They appear to be on track to receive about the same amount of money during the second phase.