Listening for the hum of business at IBEX

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Walking the floor with IBEX show director Anne Dunbar is like moving through stop-and-go traffic. She knows everybody, so we slow every 20 or 30 feet, less sometimes, while Dunbar shakes hands, hugs, jokes and chats — all the while keeping a watchful eye on the flock.

“Hey, great job this morning,” she says to Michael Esposito, president of the Irish Boat Shop of Harbor Springs, Mich., one of the speakers at a seminar on electrical safety in boatyards. “That’s such an important topic.”

After a half-dozen such encounters, I ask, “What are you looking for?”

“I look for people engaged and talking,” she answered early Tuesday afternoon, the opening day of the IBEX show in Louisville, Ky. “I’m taking the pulse, listening for the buzz.”

The buzz?

“There’s a certain sound, an audible hum,” Dunbar says as we pause for a moment. “It’s the hum of people talking. It’s the sound of business. That’s the sound of IBEX.”

We stop at a large glass booth on the main floor, where a closed molding and composites demonstration is taking place. Dunbar clearly enjoys the collaboration among the exhibitors.

“This is what I love about IBEX. For the boatbuilder, this is heaven,” she says, nodding at the scene. “Live demonstrations of new techniques and technologies. It’s inspirational. It’s educational.”

Dunbar encourages this type of hands-on teaching and learning. “Exhibitors don’t just stand in their booths anymore,” she says. “That’s old-school. They engage the audience. You see exhibitors collaborating with one another to make it exciting.”

NMMA president Thom Dammrich walks up and talks privately with Dunbar for a minute before the three of us refocus on the training session taking place behind glass panels.

“We teach people,” Dammrich remarks. “It’s not just come and look. It’s come, look and learn. And buy.”

Dunbar and I make our way to the back of the hall and stop at the display of new products that were entered in the annual Innovation Awards contest. She examines a flexible LED light strip and controller from Audiopipe. Then she steps back and scans the large display.

“This is what it’s all about,” Dunbar says. “These guys are doing it. This is all about a better boat — building a better boat, designing a better boat. This is where the future of boating begins.”

From innovation in products we make our way to the small fleet of boats that represent innovation in design, construction, materials, propulsion and anything else new under the sun. We board the Greenline 33, a handsome diesel-electric cruiser built in Slovenia.

I’ve walked through the boat on two other occasions, and it’s impressive in both concept and execution, from the quality of the glasswork to the layout and the propulsion system.

“These guys are a perfect example of forward thinking,” says Dunbar, who could as easily be summarizing the best of the IBEX ethos as describing a boat.

After the walkthrough, Dunbar thanks the Greenline crew for attending and motors off down a long aisle, an eye on the nearest exhibitor, an ear tuned to the buzz.

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