By David Benda, Record Searchlight, May 2012

With a nod to German automaker BMW, Rob Innes calls his Seabreacher watercraft “the ultimate diving machine.”

The Seabreacher, which is made in Redding, can jet across the water at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and has a starting sticker price of $75,000.

Clients as varied as wealthy Middle East businessmen and an entertainment company that stages stunt shows around the world have purchased the Seabreacher, Innes said.

The water rocket, which can dive 6 feet below the surface, can be tailored to look like a dolphin, shark or killer whale.

While the leisure boating industry has suffered in the recession, Innes said demand for his product is strong.

“You wouldn’t think shark-shape boats would be flying off the shelf,” Innes said. “But at the moment, they are selling well.”

Innes’ Innespace, the business he operates with Dan Piazza, will be one of 15 north state companies featured at the Redding Civic Auditorium on Friday at Game Changers — the second such event hosted by the Economic Development Corp. of
Shasta County.

The companies are being showcased because they embody the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative principles needed to help grow the local economy, EDC President Mark Lascelles said.

Among other local companies featured will be EV4U, which converts gas engines to electric power; sleep-aid manufacturer Linnet Biopharmaceuticals; AirCover Integrated Solutions, which manufactures drone aircraft; Apex Technology, an information
technology firm; and Plant Pro-Tec, which makes natural animal repellents.

Combined, the 15 companies have nearly 200 employees.

“One of the things about Friday that I think is a really important part of this project (Game Changers) is to get the community to believe in this sector of this economy,” Lascelles said.

Sharing the spotlight with these innovators will be keynote speaker Nancy Whitworth as well as booths and information on the resources available to assist startups.

Whitworth is deputy city manager and director of economic development for Greenville, S.C. She has played an important role in transforming the community from a textile town to technology hub, Lascelles said.

“Greenville is home to such national and international corporations as Fluor and Hubbell Lighting — with BMW and Michelin North America located nearby,” the city’s website says.

“We wanted to find a community that has been through this before and someone who could come out and tell the story,” Lascelles said of booking Whitworth. “Hopefully, 20 years from now, somebody will use Shasta County, Calif., as their story.”

Meantime, Innes believes the north state has been an ideal fit for his small manufacturing company.

Innespace and its 12 employees are getting ready to move to a bigger facility off Airport Road on Charleanne Drive in Redding.

“There is not a huge profit margin on each boat, so it’s not necessarily the most lucrative,” Innes said. “We are just excited to sell boats. We do invest a huge amount of money from the boats we sell into developing new products.”

The submersible small-water craft concept was developed in the late 1980s by Tom Rowe, a Bella Vista resident and former Hughes Aircraft Co. aerospace engineer.

Back then, Rowe called it the Bionic Dolphin.

Rowe is no longer affiliated with Innes and Piazza.

Employees at Innespace make on average $12 an hour, Innes said.

“It’s one of the few things made in the United States and sold overseas,” Innes said. “Redding really has been a good place to build, just because there is a willing workforce and operating costs are lower here.”