Auto slump slows Michigan boat sales

DETROIT – The auto industry workforce in Michigan has shrunk to almost half its size since 2000 and one byproduct of that decline has been the decrease in demand for the recreational products those workers used to buy, Bloomberg reported in a recent story on its Web site.

Autoworkers “were the ones who had the money to buy the snowmobiles, the boats, the ATVs,” Bill Manson, executive director of the Michigan Snowmobile Association, told Bloomberg. “They were the ones with the disposable income. They were the ones with the vacations.”

The number of registered watercraft in the state with the largest freshwater coastline in the world has been flat or drifting lower since 2001, according to the Michigan Department of State. Once No. 1 in boats, Michigan lost 1 percent of its total vessels through June of this year and dropped to 950,772. In June 2001, that number was 976,307, the highest point in the seven years, Bloomberg reported.

Statewide sales of new powerboats, engines and boat accessories fell 22 percent to $386 million in 2007, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. In 2003, sales were $584 million.

Mark Mathes rents slips to boat owners as the president of Emerald City Harbor in St. Claire Shores, Michigan. He has joined competitors in firing some of his employees, he told Bloomberg.

“We looked at every possible place we could trim costs,” Mathes said.

Michigan's auto industry employment has declined 45 percent to 173,600 over the past eight years as workers fell victim to bankruptcies, buyouts and early retirements. Although still the largest export income-producing industry in the state, auto-job losses have helped push Michigan's jobless rate to the highest in the U.S., at 8.5 percent in June, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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