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Boat Show: Interest resurfaces in the wake of the recession

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The Minneapolis Boat Show, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, is certain to hold special allure to winter-weary Minnesotans. Beyond the weather, both retailers and manufacturers of the models on display anticipate strong interest from consumers in the rising tide of the recovering economy.

The Star Tribune reports that the industry saw sales plunge 40 percent to 50 percent during the recession, when sales of some types of fiberglass boats were down nearly 75 percent. Now new figures from a trade group suggest production and employment levels have rebounded to 2006 levels.

Show manager Darren Envall expects 42,000 attendees at this year’s show, a 3 to 5 percent increase at the gate. The show will occupy four domes at the Minneapolis Convention Center, compared with the downsized three domes during the recession.

Minnesota remains the state with the highest number of registered watercraft per capita. But with an aging base of customers, boating registration and participation is flat, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The Pioneer Press reports that one type of boat that is growing in popularity is the pontoon. This week, show-goers will get the opportunity to eyeball updated an expansive display of updated versions of the boat. Invented in Minnesota in 1952, the traditional pontoon is a flat-bottomed structure that floats on metal tubes. But the 2014 models have undergone a revolution; the newspaper said pontoons on display feature larger boats with powerful engines and high-performance designs, plus zippy paint jobs, nicer furnishings and updated materials. Their popularity is increasing; statistics from the Marine Manufacturers Association said the number of aluminum outboard boats shipped to Minnesota in 2013 shot up to 42 percent; it was 20 percent in 2009.

Boats built by Premier Pontoons, founded in in Wyoming, Minnesota in 1992, are among the leaders in the snazzier style. Last year, Premier's 250 workers produced between 2,500 and 2,600 boats, a volume that puts it in the top tier of pontoon builders in the country. The company may add a second shift to keep up with the demand for the boats.

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