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South Florida boatbuilders survive cutbacks

South Florida's boatbuilding industry was hit hard by the recession, but remains a vital part of the region's economy.

No one can say exactly how many builders are operating in the region or how many have left the state or gone under in recent years, the Miami Herald reported. The National Marine Manufacturers Association estimated that Florida had 242 boatbuilders in 2008, the last year for which figures were available.

"When the economy was bad, boat dealers weren't able to finance their floorplans and buyers weren't able to get loans," Gordon Connell, director of association services for the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, told the newspaper. "That put manufacturers in a difficult position since dealers did not want to acquire any more inventory."

Some companies survived by cutting production radically, waiting until their inventory sells off.

"A number of companies are still around, but they're operating at a lower level of production, quietly making a few boats a year," he said.

This year, however, "The marine industry is stabilizing and a slow recovery seems to be on its way," Connell told the newspaper.

A recent report produced for the South Florida association by marine business consultants Thomas J. Murray & Associates gives an idea of how South Florida's marine sector fared during the recession.

For fiscal 2010, the marine sector, including boatbuilders, parts and equipment vendors, and dockage and marine services had a gross economic impact estimated at $7.4 billion in Broward County, down from $10.7 billion in fiscal 2005. Marine-related jobs in Broward fell from more than 134,000 to 92,000 during that period.

For Miami-Dade, the economic impact in fiscal 2010 was $540.9 million, down from $932 million in fiscal 2005. Jobs fell from 9,442 to 5,476.

"We're struggling, but we're working," Michael Brown, of Dusky Marine, told the newspaper, pointing to several boats under construction. "We're looking forward to the Miami show."

During the years prior to 2008, Dusky - which builds and sells custom boats for fishing, diving and cruising that range from 14 feet to 33 feet - used to make about 100 to 200 boats a year, Brown said. Last year, the company built "around 60 to 70 units."

"We're taking in a lot more service work now, but we're still making boats and selling them," he added.

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