FLIBS 2014 VIDEO: Show opens amid economic optimism

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FORT LAUDERDALE — The prognosis for this year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show was good — in fact, very good — at the media breakfast today aboard the superyacht Florida Princess just before the show opened.

This 55th edition of the show will be “the biggest and best in a long time — one of the top three,” said Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, CEO of Show Management, the event’s producer.

Thursday’s skies were cloudless, online ticket sales were up 12 percent from last year and a new economic impact study of South Florida’s marine industry reported that marine sales in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties are up 36.3 percent from 2010 to 2014.

“There has been a steady rebound over the last four years,” said marine economist Thomas J. Murray, who authored the study for the show’s owner, the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

More than 1,000 exhibitors from 30 countries are at the show, Zimbalist said. “We’ve had as much demand [for show space] as I’ve seen.”

CNBC’s “Squawk Box” business news program interviewed Zimbalist during a segment about the show.

“I love this day. I love this weekend. I love this event,” Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler said. “It’s how we kick off our winter [tourism] season.”

It was clear in the economic impact study why Seiler likes the show and the marine industry.

Murray said the tri-county marine industry generates a total economic impact of $11.5 billion — an increase of $2.6 billion from 2010. That figure includes $4 billion in wages and also includes economic activity that supports136,000 jobs — up from 107,000 four years ago.

MIASF executive director Phil Purcell said the show alone has an economic impact of half a billion dollars. The engines driving all of this activity are the many marine businesses — small and large — such as those represented at the show, MIASF president Kristina Hebert said.

The presidents of four successful marine businesses — builders of boats under 60 feet — talked in a panel discussion about why sales of boats in this category are growing so fast in the post-recession environment.

Sales of boats 11 to 45 feet numbered 55,000 in 2005, shrank to 16,000 in 2009 and have increased to 23,000 in 2014, said Boston Whaler president Huw Bower. Sales of boats 23 to 45 feet are increasing at a rate of 25 percent a year, he said, and increases in sales of boats under 23 feet are in single digits.

He and panelists Scott Deal, of Maverick, Hewes and Cobia; Todd Albrecht, of Jupiter Marine; and Ken Clinton, of Intrepid, said many buyers in this category are stepping down from convertible yachts with sterndrives to large center consoles with multiple large outboards, which are powerful enough now to meet their needs, technically sophisticated, very reliable, open up interior space and trimmable in shallow water to prevent lower-unit damage.

They said buyers want fresh and innovative designs that are multi-use for both fishing with the guys and family enjoyment, and comfortable, with reliable power and systems.

“The reason people boat is to spend time with friends and family,” Bower said.