Docks buzzing with Vigor Industrial evolution

Frank Foti, the chief executive of Vigor Industrial, is a big guy with a broad face, bushy eyebrows that punctuate his stories, a room-filling laugh and hands that look as if they would be most comfortable gripping tools. He appears as if he’s run shipyards his entire career.

In reality, Foti was a go-go young executive at Comcast in the 1980s when he was called home to Cleveland to save the family construction business he had done everything to escape.

Now, at 56, Foti looks back with gratitude. “I learned what an artisan is: a person working with his hands. It’s a place where more truth is exchanged. It gave me a gut feel. I fell in love with the industrial worker.”

Today he oversees 2,000 of them at Vigor, which is based in Portland. A little more than two years ago, it became the dominant shipbuilding and marine-repair company in the Northwest with its $130 million acquisition of Seattle’s iconic Todd Pacific Shipyards.

Last year, Vigor expanded again, buying Alaska Ship and Drydock, giving it reach to the oil exploration and fishing business there.

If Foti has his way, Vigor will keep growing.

“Expansion is required,” he told me at a sit-down last week in Seattle. “An American industrial company has to find the right scale or find the end.”

The United States was the world’s dominant shipbuilder half a century ago. But like flat-screen televisions, photovoltaics, wind energy, advanced batteries and scores of other formerly American-developed and -led sectors, shipbuilding is ....

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