Marine boaters help fuel Whatcom's economy

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 16, 2014 

By spending considerable dollars on the sport they love, marine boaters in Whatcom County nourish a slice of the local economy. Of note:

Estimates of the number of marine-related businesses in the county range as high as 400.

A 2013 study indicated that the Port of Bellingham's marinas at Squalicum Harbor and Blaine generated $11.8 million of business revenue last year for firms supplying services to support marina activity.

The two marinas, which have a combined 2,085 slips, amassed about 2,150 visitor nights in 2013 (the number of days a boating visitor stayed overnight), according to Chris Tibbe, Squalicum harbormaster. Those visitors also helped support local businesses.

Marine-related companies, like others, have been affected by the unsteady economy. Randy Chiabai, owner of Redden Marine Supply in Bellingham, says diversification helped the company survive some demanding years.

"We've really transformed," he says, adding that e-commerce and wholesale divisions have recently thrived.

Statistics from the Northwest Marine Trade Association show the number of boats sold in the county last year (1,323) was about 5 percent lower than in 2008, when the economy's slide began. Nick Ouilette, co-owner of Bellingham Yachts, says his company has been more fortunate than many.

"The bigger dealerships went first," he says. "The more conservative, smaller companies like us were in better position. Last year was a record year for us, both sales and profits."

Bob Carter is a freelance writer in White Rock, B.C.

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