There weren't a lot of positive stories to tell in the marine industry in 2009. It was a year that saw the collapse of the world's second-largest boatbuilder, countless industry workers facing long-term unemployment, dealers struggling to pay rising interest rates on floorplan loans, and falling consumer confidence.
Despite the many challenges, there were boats sold in 2009, and there will be boats sold this year, though many veterans acknowledge that sales levels may not return to where they were in the mid-2000s for some time.
So it's no wonder that - once again - we've chosen the economy as the top story of 2009. As one year ends and another begins, the editors of Soundings Trade Only compiled this list of the top 10 stories of 2009.
1. The Economy - In the fall, economists declared the recession officially over as the nation's gross domestic product began to rise slightly in the third quarter. But what economists say and what consumers feel often are two different things. Consumer confidence remained low, the housing market was still flat, and the unemployment rate held fast in double digits as the year closed.
The sputtering economy changed the way the industry does business. Manufacturers could no longer crank out boat after unsold boat. Dealers could no longer finance more floorplan and stock model after unsold model. Last year was a year of downsizing.
Marine companies furloughed and laid off thousands of workers, and in July Soundings Trade Only reported that the National Marine Manufacturers Association estimated 17,600 direct manufacturing jobs had been lost in the previous 12 months. The Marine Retailers Association of America estimated employment at dealerships was down 40 percent.
Brunswick Corp.'s Mercury Marine saw its Fond du Lac, Wis.-based union workers vote down a contract with concessions to the company. But when Mercury said it would close the Wisconsin operation and move to its Stillwater, Okla., facility, the union backpedaled and agreed to the changes. The company now plans to shut down the Oklahoma plant.