700 high-paying boating industry jobs will need to be filled

72bbfa6d11ba4d9c-northstar2Working on harbor pylons with composite technology developed at UM at, Harbor Technologies in Brunswick. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Summer – 2008

Article by Ramona du Houx

More than 700 good paying jobs will soon become available in Maine’s growing boatbuilding industry, according to a new survey compiled by the North Star Alliance (NSAI). Conducted in 2006, the survey provides data on the health of the industry and the industry’s potential for growth. The report was released during an exposition of NSAI at the Statehouse last spring.

“The survey findings give us a valuable snapshot of the industry right now and of areas where funding will be able to make the greatest impact to improve the ability of the industry to compete and expand. Maine boats are the best built boats in the world. Our boat builders do the best job, better than anyone anywhere in the world. This is our oldest industry. Before Maine became a state we were cutting down trees and sending them to the King’s navy; since then we’ve built better and better ships. Maine built is best built. When you sell Maine, its lobsters, lighthouses, L.L. Bean and Maine built boats. Now putting them all under one roof, with apprenticeship training, technology, and marketing assistance, there are more opportunities for good paying jobs,” said Governor John Baldacci.

“They were struggling finding people to come into the industry. They were worried about how they could get the next generation of boat builders engaged. Here we had a growing industry, with back orders as far as the eye could see, looking for workers. The Department of Labor, the community colleges, working together with the composite program, have trained new workers. The Maine Advanced Technology Center and the Marine Systems Training Center are giving Maine workers the skills they need to succeed in this industry. With the North Star Alliance we have great opportunities up and down the coast of Maine to get back to our roots, recognize our heritage, build upon this great strength we have in boat building, and provide good paying jobs now and for future generations.”

Those opportunities have grown since the creation of NSAI, which received a $14.4 million U.S. Department of Labor WIRED grant in 2006. The grant targeted the industries of boat building, composites, and marine trades for development. This “cluster” — a term used to describe a growth sector in Maine’s economy which builds on its strengths, collaborating with others involved in that sector — is projected to grow even during the national economic downturn. NASI’s goal is to eventually create 2,000 jobs in this cluster. To date the grant has achieved benchmarks in its four-pillar economic development strategy of workforce, research, market capitalization, and infrastructure development.

“It’s been phenomenal, we’ve been able to train new workers in composites, and promote our business,” said Greg Ricciardi of Mitchell Cove Boats in Rockland. “Most importantly, we are now, for the first time, producing a fishing-style boat with a cold molded process. Without the training and guidance North Star gave us, we never would have attempted this new product line.” One April 2, Mitchell Cove’s first cold-molded boat was launched.

The Landing School in Arundel teaches composites, which started with funds from the NSAI grant.  “There is a waiting list, the demand to be trained in boat building, from traditional methods to techniques of the 21st century, is so great. Our average student’s age is 27, and last year we had 16 students straight out of high school. We also retrain many displaced workers in new careers. Our oldest student is 65,” said Jane Elliot of the Landing School.In April the governor signed legislation accrediting the school.

“I work at UM composites center, as a grad student,” said John Kenerson. “I wanted to do a project that would help companies understand the benefits of cold molding as a construction method that cuts down on dangerous emissions that are bad for the environment and workers, as well as being cost effective. I’m putting together a handbook for them. It’s far better to work out the problems at UM labs than have a company waste hundreds of millions on a project.”

The Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center at UM has already been the catalyst that has helped many boat builders in Maine upgrade their technologies into the 21st century. The composite materials developed at the center strengthen boats while adding flexibility to lessen stress. Hodgdon Yachts used technologies developed at UM to build the Navy SEAL’s prototype Mako V.1. The impact from their former boats hitting the waves at high speeds was causing spine problems. The Hodgdon boat absorbs the shock, instead of the people in the boat.

While at the Capitol Kenerson talked to participants and arranged to visit Seaway Boats to help them develop a composites program. This is a prime example of how the NSAI consortium works. In many ways it is neighbors helping neighbors. In this case it’s a cluster neighborhood of like industries, educational institutions, and state agencies working together to propel Maine’s oldest industry around the world.

“So far we’ve accessed training in cold molding and the apprentice program,” said Harry Farmer of Seaway Boats of Oxford. “That’s right we are inland, in Oxford; we moved by the lakes and it’s been great for us. “Because of North Star, we are going to expand and have a new boat on the market. We’ll be getting more training and advice to build cold molded boats from UM’s composite center.”

Big names in the boatbuilding industry, known worldwide, are members of NSAI and Maine Built Boats (MBB) and have gotten as much out of the grant as smaller boat builders throughout the state.

“We’ve trained former mill workers from Millinocket in boatbuilding techniques with grant funds,” said Cuyler Morris of Morris Yachts. “We’ve had on-the-job training of employees, cold fusion trainings, and we’ve done a lot with an apprentice program, all funded by North Star. Some of the apprentices are now workers at Morris. Others are in their second year of training.” The first year of apprentice training is paid fully by NASI, the second year 75 percent is paid for. The NASI has training resource liaisons in all of Maine’s sixteen counties. “We’d love the assistance of NSAI to continue.”

Hinckley Yachts have used the resources NASI has provided. Phil Bennett of Hinckley Yachts in Southwest Harbor said, “No reasonable boat builder thinks they can do it all on their own and continue to be successful. We do need support for our entire industry. In order to build quality boats we need people who have skills and want to make a real livelihood in boat building. We also need valuable workers in the marine trade industry; from manufactures to trade sales and services, all are important for our future growth. There’s no doubt that coming together with Maine Built Boats has helped us. NASI grew from that.”

Hinckley, like all the other boat builders represented at the Statehouse is a member of MBB, a consortium of boat builders from Maine who, with the help of the Baldacci administration, came together in 2005. “What’s great is how these companies, who used to compete, are now working together. They put aside their differences and now there are more opportunities for growth. My hope is that other natural resource-based clusters will use this example as a template,” said Baldacci.

Maine Built Boats is now working together to promote the industry worldwide with the assistance of NSAI.

“It’s not just about creating jobs in Maine, so a new generation of Mainers can continue the boatbuilding traditions and stay in the state with good paying jobs. It’s also about creating worldwide recognition of the industries that are already in the state. Clients come to Maine for our boats from around the world. We want them to buy our boats and dock the boat at a Maine marina. We want them to enjoy the wonderful coastline, that is magical, and spend their money in Maine. We are trying to get the word out to other places so more people come here,” said Bennett. “There is no reason why Maine can’t be synonymous with boat building. It should be like Swiss watches are to Switzerland.”

The governor outlined a number of opportunities that have been created through the work of the initiative, including:

• Developing Maine’s high quality workforce through the creation of two new state-of-the-art training centers: the Maine Advanced Technology Center and the Marine Systems Training Center

• Expanding technology, especially composites technology at the University of Maine

• Expanding market outreach. Maine Built Boats is starting a new global marketing campaign to brand Maine’s boatbuilding industry

The report also identifies major challenges facing the future of boat building in Maine, including workforce recruitment and retention, high cost of health and liability insurance and high coastal property values. Combined with the administration’s initiatives on quality education, The Pine Tree Development Zone program, which gives businesses tax incentives, and research and development funding, the North Star Alliance works to make strategic investments where they will have the greatest impact.

Everyone represented at the Statehouse wanted NASI efforts to continue long after the grant monies run out.

“Our challenge will be sustainability. We are investing in workforce development — economic development — bringing the partners to the table in a way they never have been before. NSAI has worked with over 600 companies. Currently we’re working on getting the curriculum in place, understanding what training needs to be brought to the state that isn’t here already, continuing to network, and looking for ways to create legislative tools to get sustainable funding,” said Christina Sklarz-Libby, NSAI program Manager for the Governor’s Office. “A case in point would be how the $50 million grant monies approved by voters in a bond issue last November is helping to fund cluster development. The funds are distributed through the Maine Technology Institute and are matched by private funds. It’s this kind of initiative that shows how we need to bring public money and private enterprise to the same table, because everyone has a stake in growing our economy. North Star can be an example of how it can happen. What we are looking to do is combine public and private money into a revolving loan. To invest in projects that will be the front runners in job creation and technology advancement.”

Bringing like-minded industries together with organizations that they need to work with in order to become successful sounds easy. Somehow over 400 years of boat building, the concept never got off the ground.

“It’s basically common sense, but no one had done anything like this before. The question was: how do we work together and come together putting aside personnel grudges for the good of the whole? This is how. North Star Alliance is one of the most stellar programs in the nation,” said Sklarz-Libby. “We will become a model for the nation.”

For more information on Maine’s North Star Alliance Initiative, please go tohttp://www.maine.gov/wired/index.shtml