Alliance unites Maine’s boatbuilders

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Organization hopes to boost sales and develop international market for Maine-built boats

If you’re buying a new boat this year, make it a Maine-built boat, say state officials.

The state’s Department of Economic and Community Development has teamed up with some of Maine’s boatbuilders to create a new organization.

The Maine Built Boats Organization is intended to help boost sales and increase presence in the global market.

Industry representatives estimate the alliance could increase annual boat sales in the state from $650 million to more than $1 billion over the next 10 years.

Jack Cashman, Commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development said, in a statement, “This industry has tremendous potential for growth. We’ve got all the makings of a world-class boatbuilding community — a long tradition of boat manufacturing, skilled craftspeople, and premium equipment and facilities. This partnership between the state and industry represents a concerted effort to increase our market share.”

MBBO, a division of the Maine Marine Trades Association, plans to build a unified brand and market Maine-built boats to national and international audiences. Initial funding for the alliance was raised by local boatbuilders with additional funding from the state.

Other initiatives include partnerships with the state and federal governments to leverage resources and develop a favorable business environment for Maine boatbuilders, support of industry training, and the development of technologies that enhance product performance, according to the organization.

Stephen Von Vogt of Hodgdon Yachts said in a statement, “The Maine boatbuilding industry incorporates cutting-edge composite technology into the production of some of the finest and most sophisticated vessels produced anywhere in the world. The concentration of composite talent in Maine positions our industry for a dominant role in the boatbuilding industry of the 21st century.”

The idea for a boatbuilding alliance actually came from sailor and author Nigel Calder, who posed the idea to the governor. State officials in February 2004 brought together about 20 of the state’s largest boatbuilders, including Hinckley, Hodgdon, Sabre and Wilbur. The organization was officially launched March 18 during the Maine Boatbuilders show, a three-day event that draws thousands of boat enthusiasts.

The organization is structured after New Zealand’s Marine Industry Association, which increased the country’s marine exports from $82 million in 1994 to $389 million in 2003.

The organization already is working with the University of Maine on developing lighter weight composites for boatbuilding. In addition, the state is in the process of developing new boatbuilding apprenticeship programs at local colleges and universities to support the workforce needs of this growing industry sector.

Nearly 450 companies make up Maine’s boatbuilding industry, with products ranging from luxury yachts to small boats, to parts and supplies.