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Good news from the Buckeye State!

I’m always looking for encouraging news to include in this blog. Like you, I’m fed up with pessimistic reporting these days! But, I admit as I boarded a flight to Cleveland last week, I wasn’t expecting to find much good news.

After all, Ohio is a state really hard hit by the troubled auto and steel industries, among others. Cleveland is the city often dubbed the “heart” of America’s rust belt. Indeed, the whole Buckeye State ranks near the top of states with the highest unemployment.

So, when I saw Pam Dillon, chief of the Ohio Division of Watercraft, and she shared that Ohio set an all-time record for registered boats in 2009, I was so surprised I must have looked like a kid with vodka in his sippy cup! 

“Are you kidding,” I asked, as if she would ever joke about something like that. “No joke,” she replied. “We have a record 419,364 registered vessels, an increase of 7,998 over 2008.” She went on to say the figure does not even include about 5,500 registered livery boats and it surpasses the old record of 418,300 vessels registered back in 2003!

Now admittedly, the Ohio Division of Watercraft has always been recognized as one of the most successful organizations of its kind in the nation. It’s a well-managed agency totally funded by Ohio’s boaters, uniquely popular with its constituency and a model user-pay, user-benefit program. Equally important, the division annually commits millions of dollars to promoting and expanding boating opportunities and access facilities. So, while registrations may not be growing in most states, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re up in Ohio.

What’s encouraging in all this, of course, is that regardless of some pundits’ predictions that boating will decline, the evidence clearly indicates the passion of our customers for boating remains strong in spite of this great recession. It’s why we can be confident we will recover. Kudos, Ohio!

In fact, there was more encouraging news from Ohio. I also attended the Cleveland Boat Show and I was impressed by it. While the footprint was smaller (what show isn’t) it was still big and impressive. The quality of the displays by northern Ohio’s dealers was excellent and sent a positive message. What’s more, the aisles were crowded, even on a weeknight, and the exhibitors were visibly upbeat. Attendance for the show was down just 5 percent, according to LEMTA President Ken Alvey, and dealers indicated there was a distinct change in attitudes from a year ago.

“Last year, people came to the show, but wouldn’t even talk about buying,” said Alvey. “This year the dealers are saying the attendees are serious about buying and sales results are definately better.”

As I reported in this blog last week, it’s notable that all the major winter shows thus far are reporting better-than-expected attendance and improving sales. It’s more evidence we’ve bottomed out and we’re starting to see signs of recovery.

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