MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - The boat companies displaying their wares at the Minneapolis Boat Show are used to working on the top of the water - but they've seen the bottom.
"Our 2010 show we shrank by 100,000 square feet, down to a three hall show, and we were not full that year," said boat show manager Jennifer Thompson.
Looking for a an indicator of an improving economy? You'll find it here. "2013, we have been sold out for a long time."
Thompson's smile is back - and so are boat buyers at a show that fills the entire convention center again.
Boat sales rose 13 percent in the US last year, according to new numbers arriving at the offices of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. "It wasn't until we got to 2012 that we saw almost every segment of the industry turn around and the recovery became more broad based," said Thomas Dammrich, president of the NMMA.
Jay and Karen Osborne of Ham Lake are riding the wave. They came to the boat show with plans to buy. "Hopefully tonight if it works out," said Karen Osborne. "If the deal's right," added her husband.
The Osbornes came to shop for a pontoon, the fastest growing segment of the marine industry.
The slog back was a long one - four of every ten US boat dealers went out of business during the recession, as boat sales fell by half, according to numbers kept by the NMMA.
Pontoon builder Premier Marine of Wyoming, Minnesota laid off more than 100 workers - nearly half its staff
Today Premier is back at full employment - sales up 30 percent last year. "We got people working, we don't have to worry about their families because they're getting paychecks every week, it's a whole different thing," said Betty Menne of Premier Marine.
A boating industry recovery is particularly good news in Minnesota, home to more than 800,000 registered boats, the most in the nation per capita.
Those boating registrations had dropped during the recession too, but rose by 9000 last year, according the Minnesota DNR. That said, 50,000 more registrations will be needed for the state to return to 2008 boat numbers.
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