Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:05 PM on Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New group to market Homer marine trades

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories about the importance of Homer's harbor and the marine trades to the economy of Homer.)

Following a successful showing at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in November, area businesses related to the marine trades have taken it to the next step. They have officially formed the Homer Marine Trades Association, a not-for-profit organization, complete with a board of directors: Kate Mitchell, Don Lane, Gary Squires, Mike Stockburger and Steve Zimmerman.

"We're not a political group. We're a marketing group that's just advertising the marine trades in the Homer area. By combining our efforts and resources, we will be able to participate in broader markets to bring business to Homer. Basically, that's the focus," said Lane.

The association already boasts a membership of about 50 local businesses and a website: www.homermarinetrades.com.

"It's a real good website," said Stockburger. "We've just got to get people to check us out. We're covering all the bases, all the marine trades and also banks, grocery stores, hotels, B&Bs. All the various aspects that come up when you go to a town that's not your own.

Basically, what we'd like to do is have a central point that someone can tap into and find out how to get things done in Homer."

If the website looks familiar, it's because it is nearly identical to a Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center site for marine trades committee. Don't be confused, however. This new group is an entity unto itself.

"The chamber was gracious enough to just transfer that website to our control and they are keeping the "marine trades" icon on their site so from the chamber website, you can go to ours," said Mitchell, owner of NOMAR. "There is still a mutual partnership, but this organization needed to stand alone to represent more of the marine businesses."

Monte Davis, the chamber's executive director, agreed.

"The Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center will continue to make every effort to support the marine trades in whatever capacity and opportunity that presents itself," said Davis.

In addition to taking the necessary steps of developing by-laws, the association is spreading the word that Homer is the place to come to have work done on boats. For starters, they are placing ads in three national magazines, one of which also is featuring Homer as the "harbor of the month."

"These little ads are 'choose Homer for your boatwork, www.homermarinetrades.com.' They are just little spot ads that send you to our website and then the website lists all of the businesses that have joined, plus harbor information," said Mitchell.

The business members provide boat building and repair, as well as boat cleaning and detailing. There are businesses that offer boat hauling and storage, as well as boat surveys. There are insurance carriers, businesses that offer safety equipment and storage, as well as fish processors. And there are associated businesses, such as lodging for out-of-town boat owners that choose Homer as the place to have their vessels worked on.

"We have more trained trades people than any place else," said Mitchell.

Asked what local businesses don't have some marine connection, Lane said that's the point.

"The reality is that marine trades bring so much business into Homer, good solid business," said Lane, adding that it isn't just seasonal activity. "A lot is in the wintertime when boats are not working. They're in for repair and upgrade mode. Whey they come to town, they need places to stay, they need to know where grocery stores are and all the other ancillary businesses people need when they're in an area, working on their boats for a couple of months. The Marine Trades Association basically benefits everybody in Homer."

In addition to what Homer has, the association also is looking at what is needed in order to expand local services. For instance, Northern Enterprises has a travel-lift with a 70-ton capacity and Stockburger's business, Homer Boat Yard, can handle boats up to 34,000 pounds, so larger vessels, like Lane's boat, the 75-ton Predator, have to go to other locations to have work done.

"I go to Seward, spend six weeks there and always spend $35,000-$45,000 that goes into the Seward economy," said Lane.

Still, the marine business that comes to Homer comes from around the state and beyond.

"About a third of my customers don't live in Homer," said Stockburger. "I haul boats to and from as far away as Fairbanks, Haines. There are a lot in the Lower 48. ... We're basically saying, 'Bring your boat to Homer.'"

The city partnered with the marine trades group at the expo in Seattle. Although not an official member of the association, Bryan Hawkins, the city of Homer harbormaster, attends association meetings as a port and harbor representatives.

"You can't talk about a port and harbor without also talking about services, and you can't talk about services without at some point coming in contact with harbor. So, it's a good relationship in that way," said Hawkins.

From his perspective, Hawkins knows what a strong marine connection exists in Homer. There's the U.S. Coast Guard; the marine pilots; and commercial, charter and private fishing. There are tankers coming in and out of the area, seeking safe anchorage in the upper part of the bay. There's the Alaska Marine Highway System, water taxis and freight barges. There are landing craft in a variety of sizes, tour companies, kayak businesses, and the harbor's load-and-launch customers. There are shellfish farmers and the scientific community.

"It's very interesting that this is the hub, and not just for Homer, but the whole region," said Hawkins.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.