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Boating: Unsinkable

Whaler
Whaler moved its manufacturing operations to Edgewater in southeast Volusia in 1987 and relocated its headquarters from Rockland, Mass., to Edgewater in 1993.

On the Water
The marine industry's economic impact in Florida was estimated at $18 billion in 2005, before the downturn. Below are the categories in which Florida ranks No. 1 nationally:

» New powerboat, motor, trailer and accessory sales with $1.19 billion (2009)

» Boat registrations (for the sixth consecutive year, 2009) with 949,030

» Boating-related businesses, with 5,541 employing 30,065 (2008)

» Boat builders, with 242 employing 10,407 (2008)

» Boat dealers, with 745, employing 6,706 (2008)

Source: National Marine Manufacturers Association

While boat sales still lag and many production plants remain idle, central Florida boat builders such as Boston Whaler in Volusia County and Correct Craft in Orange County are seeing signs of stability in the market and launching new products.

One indicator: Publicly traded Brunswick Corp., based in Illinois, said in its annual report in February that net sales for its boat group rose 23% to $913 million in 2010. The company posted a net loss but had an operating profit of $16.3 million — a huge improvement over 2009's operating loss of $570.5 million. Brunswick has 17 brands in its portfolio, including Boston Whaler, the leading builder of center-console "unsinkable boats." A number of Whaler veterans have gone on to launch their own successful boat businesses, including EdgeWater Powerboats, a center- console manufacturer in Edgewater that employs 100.

Correct Craft, a family-owned builder in Orlando for more than 80 years, is among the firms expecting a rebound. The company, maker of the Nautique line of boats, early this year unveiled Ski Nautique E, a prototype high-performance ski boat powered by electric motors. The Meloon family's boat business operates out of a 216,000-sq.-ft. plant it built in Orlando in 2006.

The industry continues to face challenges, including lagging consumer incomes and high fuel prices but "is starting to see signs of a recovery," says Jeff Malehorn, president and CEO of GE Capital's Commercial Distribution Finance. In a statement at an international boat show in Miami in February, Malehorn said, "Through our 40 years in the marine industry, we've seen many cycles, and we're optimistic about the years ahead."