As if the Maine Boatbuilders Show wasn’t reason enough to jump in the car on a rainy and snowy mid-March Saturday and drive from Boston to Portland, an invitation to an evening reception hosted by Maine Built Boats clinched the deal.
And so, after a day spent in the rambling buildings at Portland Yacht Services exploring exquisite small boats, chatting with builders, and running my fingers over the sorts of boating paraphernalia you’re never going to find in a national chain store, I headed up the hill to the Portland Museum of Art. That’s where a who’s who of the Maine marine industry were waiting to see their newly created branding campaign unveiled.
Maine Built Boats was officially launched in 2005 to bring state and private sector resources together to promote boat building, and by extension, the composites industry and the marine trades in general. Combined, they’re a significant source of jobs along the Down East coast and elsewhere in Maine. The group has a lot going on these days, thanks in part to a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, part of which is going toward a new ad campaign promoting the state’s high-end boat building capabilities. The reasoning is that you can’t create jobs if there isn’t demand for the product.
The challenge, of course, is that there are lots of players and they’re building many different sorts of craft. A visit to the Maine Boat Builder’s Show introduces you to everything from canvas-covered kayaks and wooden rowing shells to traditional schooners, carbon-fiber race boats, and all-ocean power cruisers.
So instead of promoting any one type of boat or builder, the organization is rallying around themes like authenticity, pride, ingenuity, and integrity. These are the phrases used by builders when they met to define the Maine-built brand, said MBB president Jane Wellehan, before she and Todd French of French & Webb unveiled a series of ads that will run in boating and targeted general circulation magazines. “Art and Soul” is the tag line used to tie the campaign together.
According to Elaine Scott of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, money from the grant will fund research and development of composites through the University of Maine, workforce training, and marketing to bolster the Maine-built brand. MBB is also intent on attracting capital to grow the industry and create jobs.
The question is, says Scott, “How do you work together to go out to the world and get the message out about what you’re doing?”
With the launch of its campaign, supported by its research and training initiatives, MBB appears to be working hard at crafting an answer.