Maine-Built Boats: Growing As A United Industry With State Help

New Zealand’s marine exports grew from $82 million in 1994 to $389 million in 2003. Nigel Calder, a well known boating writer, was struck by these figures and questioned why Maine shouldn’t follow New Zealand’s lead. With Maine’s long tradition in producing high quality boats, Calder saw how Maine’s untapped boating industry potential could take off as New Zealand’s did, with the right marketing and state support. Inspired by the possibilities for the state he sent the relevant information to Governor Baldacci.

“It was a tremendous idea. My goal has always been to spread economic prosperity throughout the state of Maine,” said Governor Baldacci. “The oldest industry in the state of Maine, before we were even organized, was boatbuilding.”

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The Governor talked about the new partnerships with Maine Boat Builders at the Rockland Boat Show. MBB has over forty members brought together with the help from the state. “The potential for spin-off business growth is great,” said Commissioner JackCashman about MBB.

Then Jack Cashman, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) met with about 20 boat builders in the state and asked them if they would like to formulate a business plan to begin a coalition based on what New Zealand has accomplished. The alliance was born, and Maine Built Boats (MBB) was officially launched in 2005.

“It was a natural fit,” said Commissioner Cashman. “Maine’s tradition in boat building is known the world over, but it never has been brought together as a force. Working together, the industry is stronger and will reach more potential buyers. I have no doubt we will see a dramatic increase in sales.”

Members of the alliance are optimistic that the industry can triple its sales to more than $1 billion within 10 years.

There are over 450 boatbuilding companies in the state, and they generate over $600 million in revenue per year.

Though all of the companies in the alliance have limited marketing budgets, together they make up a formidable force that can compete on the world stage.

“The collaborative effort, marketing Maine boat builders, will bring more boat customers to the state of Maine,” said John Kachmar, owner of Wilbur Yachts. His company sells from three to five custom-built powerboats a year and is hoping that number will increase as a member of MBB.

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Governor Baldacci talks with a boatbuilding exhibitor at the Rockland Boat show. Promoting Maine’s small business is a priority of the governor’s.

According to Tim Hodgdon, owner of Hodgdon Yachts which started in 1816, in order to survive in Maine’s boatbuilding industry you have to change with the times. Hodgdon’s is the largest boat builder in MMB with close to 100 employees. “Collectively we are stronger working together, and working with the state. I went on Maine’s trade mission to France with the governor. I made contracts we wouldn’t have if I’d stayed home. The world is our marketplace and MBB opens the door for Maine boat builders.”

“Maine builders are known as high-quality builders, but people might not be aware of what we can offer — from an 18-foot boat like we build to large yachts. Maine has it all,” said John Williams, an MBB member. “My business has been in our family for generations. Our traditional industry is poised for growth with MBB. It is our marking arm. I commend the governor for bringing us all together.”

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“MBB represents quality boats built with Maine pride. MBB is trying to become established as a primary resource. We’re here to strengthen and expand Maine’s boatbuilding industry,” said Paul Rich head of MBB. “With forty members, from small boats to large yachts, we have a nice representation of boat manufactures from 11 counties. We’re not just on the coast. MBB is good for the entire state. We will be represented at some major boat shows this year — including the one in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”

MBB is also dedicated to supporting marine industry training and the development of technologies that enhance industry products and performance, and has been working with the state to achieve these goals.

“The potential for spin-off business growth is great,” said Commissioner Cashman. “More business for boat builders means more business for the service sectors that serve them. With more boat sales, other industries will be directly affected, which should grow Maine’s economy. Sail and furniture makers, craftspeople, and educational institutes will gain from the MBB alliance.”

The state is already working on apprentice programs all across Maine. The Landing School in Kennebunkport, an MBB member, will be teaching new composites courses in boatbuilding come September. Funds from a $15 million grant the state won are being used to create the course.

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Morris Yachts, a MBB member accepts its award for 2006 Domestic Boat of the Year from Cruising World magazine and Pine Tree Zone (PTZ) certification from the governor. "This award signifies what we here in Maine have known all along, that we have the best boat builders in the world," Baldacci said.

Morris said the benefits his company will receive through its PTZ status will be used to expand the current boatbuilding facility in Trenton, purchase machines and equipment worth more than $100,000, invest $1 million to build a new facility, and create 15 additional jobs.