For the second year in a row, thousands of people visiting the three-day Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle got to hear about Homer, thanks to a collaborative effort between the city of Homer and the Homer Marine Trades Association.
"It went really well, said Bryan Hawkins, Homer's harbormaster. "Homer did the expo years ago, but hadn't done it since I was here, and I've been here since 2000. It's something I've been wanting to do, take the show on the road."
Mike Stockburger, owner of the Homer Boat Yard and a founding member of Homer Marine Trades Association, agreed.
"It seemed like everybody that was there was interested in finding out information and talking to us rather than just passing through," said Stockburger, comparing this year's expo to last year's. "There were a lot more people there for a specific reason rather than for something to do on a Saturday. There was a noticeable difference."
This year the Homer group also joined the "Alaska Trail" sponsored by Alaska Airlines. Visitors to the expo are given a card to be punched by expo vendors, the card then is put in a drawing and the winner receives free airline tickets.
"Some of the flow we had were those people just looking to win the lottery, but that did get us on a list so people were circulating around and finding us," said Stockburger.
The event draws visitors from Alaska to California that are "looking for everything they need, from bow to stern, for the most important component of their business, the boat," according to information provided by the expo.
The buyers represent commercial, passenger, charter vessel owners and operators, shipyards and boatbuilders, commercial fishermen, seafood processors, engineers and architects, pleasure-boat owners and operators, equipment manufacturers and distributors, representatives from other ports, marine surveys and marina operators, military officials and anyone else related to the marine industry. According to expo statistics:
* Eight of every 10 people attending the Pacific Marine Expo find new products that fit their business;
* 70 percent of the visitors purchase for their business as a result of the expo;
* 78 percent think finding new products at the expo is the most important reason to attend;
* 86 percent found new products;
* 85 percent are involved or influence purchasing decisions.
"It's a great venue for advertising our ports and harbors in Alaska," said Hawkins. "We need to be going down there and flying the flag."
The backdrop for the Homer booth was an attention-getting photo of the Spit taken by Scott Dickerson and reflecting a working harbor.
"That was a big hit. It seemed like everyone that had ever been to Homer had to swing by and take a look and see if their boat or their uncle's boat was in the picture," said Stockburger.
Hawkins also had conceptual drawings for the east harbor and Deep Water Dock expansion projects. The harbor expansion was designed to make room for larger vessels and open the area they currently occupy for smaller vessels. Hawkins said the Deep Water Dock expansion would make it twice as wide, twice as long and twice as strong. It would make it possible for the dock to accommodate more than one ship at a time, handle containerized freight and roll freight on and off ships.
"Having those was great because people could stop and talk about it and get a visual," said Hawkins.
An ongoing PowerPoint presentation and the brochures, rack cards and business cards of Homer Marine Trades members provided other information about Homer. Having association representatives at the booth also added to the information available.
"Many of the business owners in association come to the expo and spend the whole time there," said Hawkins. "They're all scheduled to spend time in the booth, so there's business connections being made while we're standing on the floor. There were easily a dozen men and women who came and spent hours of time in the booth, answering questions and giving ideas."
Among the guests visiting the Homer booth was former legislator and Halibut Cove resident Clem Tillion.
"He was heading to Juneau and asked what message we wanted to send to Juneau, so Bryan showed him the extension project," said Stockburger. "Apparently we're at the top of the list for some of the capital improvements we've proposed and being number one is great, but you've got to be funded. Clem said he'd talk to the appropriate people about that."
Homer Marine Trades officially formed Nov. 1, 2011, as a 501(c)6 business organization. Its mission is to promote Homer's marine trades and work to bring more boats and businesses to Homer and the membership businesses, said Kate Mitchell, also a founding member. There are currently 60 business members.
The organization's first year was focused on advertising, raising awareness of the services available in Homer and extending an invitation to "choose Homer for your boatwork" via state and national publications.
At the association's annual meeting, members were asked what was needed to make their businesses grow. The leading answers were finding skilled people and providing a haul-out for larger vessels.
"We have formed a committee to look into training programs that we might be able to help Homer supply those (skilled) workers," said Mitchell. Of a haul-out for larger vessels, she said, "We have been so lucky to have private business Northern Enterprise and Homer Boat Yard able to haul the fleet up to 75 tons and have a place for work and workers. Homer is ready to provide service to our local fleet and others, the big boats that currently have to go elsewhere to be hauled."
That's a project that will take some work, but isn't impossible, according to Hawkins.
"We have to sit down and put our heads together and make a concentrated effort toward achieving that, but it certainly is achievable," said Hawkins.
For more about Homer Marine Trades, visit www.homermarinetrades.com.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.