Maine boat building alliance aims to triple sales

EAST BOOTHBAY, Maine - An alliance of 10 boat manufacturers in Maine, working in conjunction with the state's government, is expected to unveil a marketing and economic plan early next year to promote its products worldwide, the New York Times reported in story published today.

Hodgdon Yachts, a custom boat company manufacturing luxury yachts and sailboats, formed the alliance with nine competitors and the state in February 2004 to promote Maine's 400-year-old boat building industry, according to the Times.

One of the goals of the three-year plan to promote boats built in the state is to lure to Maine wealthy East Coast residents who currently travel abroad to buy their boats.

"The United States has lost a market share for large private vessels to Europe and the South Pacific," Steve Von Vogt, manager of special projects at Hodgdon, told the newspaper. "It isn't a question of sales lagging. It's a question of developing a more robust industry."

The alliance said it expects other companies in the state to join its effort.

About 450 companies, mostly makers of custom boats, remain in the state and were responsible for generating $612 million in revenue in 2002, Susan Swanton, the executive director of the Maine Marine Trade Association, told the Times.

Though all of the companies in the alliance have limited marketing budgets, they believe they will close the sales gap with companies like Royal Huisman of the Netherlands and Alloy of New Zealand, which churn out dozens of boats annually and have big marketing campaigns supported by their governments.

The alliance was created last year after Nigel Calder, a boating writer in Maine, sent a paper to the state's economic development office urging Gov. John E. Baldacci to replicate an organization in New Zealand, which marketed that nation's boat builders so well that the country's marine exports grew to $389 million in 2003 from $82 million in 1994, the Times reported.

The builders have held periodic meetings to develop the plan and submit it for review by the state; the final version is to be made public in January. Though nobody expects an explosion in boat sales equivalent to the nearly fivefold increase New Zealand enjoyed, the state's boat builders are optimistic that the industry can triple its sales to more than $1 billion within 10 years, according to the newspaper.

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