LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The International BoatBuilders' Exhibition & Conference opened its 25th show on Tuesday with National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich saying the boating business will enjoy "good times" for at least 2-1/2 more years.
Total retail spending in the industry was $35.4 billion in 2014, which is approaching the all-time high of $38 billion in 2006, Dammich said as he presented a chart showing the steady growth to a crowd of 650 in the audience at the state-of-the-industry breakfast.
The three-day event is being held at the Kentucky Exposition Center. The show includes 550 displaying companies, 110 of which are new to the event.
"I am very confident when we are done calculating the numbers for 2015 we'll be back to that previous high or above that previous high of 2006," he said. "So I tell people — and have been telling people all year: We're back!"
New-boat sales were calculated as being up 7 to 8 percent on a rolling 12-month basis, said Dammrich, who anticipates that kind of growth will continue.
He also looked forward to the 2016 Progressive Miami International Boat Show in February, which will be held for the first time at the Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin.
"It's five months away, and there is no question that the Miami International Boat Show will be ready in February," Dammich said during his 20-minute presentation. "The Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin will be our permanent home."
The village of Key Biscayne is still fighting plans — filing lawsuits against the city of Miami as well as boat show organizers — to hold the show at the new location, but its momentum has died down.
Dammrich ran through several statistics that illustrate the show's importance to the industry. It generates $600 million in economic activity; about $30.4 billion in excise and sales tax is generated within Florida; about 100,000 visitors will come to the show from around the globe; and the show will connect 500 international buyers from more than 26 countries.
The show has attracted 1,200 total exhibitors. There will be more than 1,200 boats, plus marine accessories. And 500 slips will hold boats of all sizes.
IBEX show director Anne Dunbar opened today’s proceedings, which also included an awards ceremony and a keynote speech by Major League Baseball great Johnny Bench.
"IBEX has survived because the work you do here for the next three days matters," Dunbar said. "IBEX is where the marine industry experiences innovation and embraces change that moves our industry forward. It is the launch pad for astounding ... advancements in the tools, technologies, methods and materials that are necessary to build a better boat."
She cited some of the hurdles and major changes the show has endured, including the luxury tax, two recessions and three U.S. presidents. The show has had five directors (Dunbar is the fifth) and has been held in four cities and convention centers.