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Annual Boat Show Swells In Wilmington

The second Wilmington Boat Show will kick off next week when a host of vendors from around the area and across the nation will converge on the downtown waterfront.

The show will run Sept. 8-10 at several venues downtown including Port City Marina, The Shell, Wilmington Convention Center and Battleship Park.

But the show isn’t just bringing in nationally recognized companies within the industry to Wilmington’s riverfront; boating enthusiasts from all over the country will travel to the area for the event, according to Jacqui Bomar, president of JBM Associates, a South Carolina-based boat show management company.

In its second year, the show is gaining traction for the city, and the Wilmington Boat Show has become one of the largest boat shows managed by Bomar and her staff at JBM Associates, she said.

“Usually when you start a show it takes years to get much of an attendance, but last year the show brought in more than 12,000 people from all over the state and country,” Bomar said.

Bomar has been producing boat shows for 17 years, including shows in Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. In one year, the Wilmington Boat Show has grown a large attendance, larger than the company’s in-water boat show in Charleston and the Savannah boat show, which is in its 16th year.

“We get maybe 7,000 people in Savannah each year, and we’ve surpassed that already in our first year in Wilmington,” Bomar said. “Wilmington … happens to be in a location with a huge amount of boating enthusiasts coming from all over.”

This year, the show will employ about 200 people, both with the management company and locally. 

Through the estimated thousands of visitors to the Wilmington area, Bomar said, the show also draws economic impact for the city’s tourism and hospitality businesses. Both travelers and locals to the boat show will enjoy downtown Wilmington restaurants and bars and take advantage of the city’s attractions and shops. And travelers will seek hotels, she added.

This year, the show has grown slightly in the number of exhibitors and boat lines to the city. The show is expected to bring in more than 160 exhibitors, up from 124 last year. The number of boat lines has also grown from 80 to 86 this year.  

The boat management group rents out the Wilmington Convention Center, Battleship North Carolina grounds and Port City Marina for the show. So far, JMB has sold 22 more in-water slips and 43 more 10×10 booths than last year.  

“Our participation will continue to grow up until the day the show opens,” said Erica Allen, sales director for JBM Associates, in an email. “We have the exact same number of boat dealers displaying boats, but 6 additional lines will be available to view. Both new and brokerage boats will be on sale, and the in-water boats will be available for sea trials at the dealers’ discretion. Additionally, we will have much more on display at Battleship Park than we did in 2016.”

This year, Bomar said the management company was able to secure a multi-year contract with Yamaha as the presenting sponsor of the Wilmington Boat Show.

“Yamaha has a great deal of clout in the boating industry, and they’re supporting us because they have been to every boat show in the country and they really believe that Wilmington is the next huge show in the country,” Bomar said.

Yamaha was a show participant in 2016.

“Yamaha Marine chose to become the presenting sponsor of the Wilmington Boat Show based on the feedback we received from our dealers and boat builders,” said Austin Roebuck, spokesman for Yamaha Marine Group.

Roebuck added that the show is also an opportunity to showcase its products and let boaters test products firsthand on three demo boats Yamaha will have at the show.

“With Wilmington being situated where it is in North Carolina — on the coast with so many boat builders and boat dealerships up and down the coast — we knew that it would be a great show. But what we didn’t realize is how quickly the show would deliver,” Bomar said. “I just feel like the boat show has a great future, because [of] the way it started, and it’s so rare for a boat show to be that good.”

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South Carolina boatmaker adding more space, 100 jobs in latest …

A Summerville marine business that’s expanded twice over the past four years is at it again.

Sportsman Boats Manufacturing announced Thursday that it plans to create another 100 jobs and invest $3.5 million at its Dorchester County site to keep up with demand.

The company said it will be adding 70,000 square feet of production space to its Limbros Industrial Park site to accommodate growth in its upholstery, welding and fabrication operations.

It expects its payroll to swell to about 370 workers, with hiring for the new openings already underway.

Sportsman Boats is headquartered on Isaac Way, off U.S. Highway 78, where it recently installed an 800-kilowatt rooftop solar power system as part of its sustainability efforts.

The company said it now makes 21 models of saltwater center-console fishing and bay boats ranging in length from 17 to 31 feet. They are now carried by about 50 dealers. The company also has started selling in the international market. 

The S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development has approved state tax credits that Sportsman Boats can apply for in the future, based on the number of jobs it creates under the new expansion.

The company was started with six employees in 2011 by two former founders of Sea Pro Boats in the Midlands and Key West Boats in Summerville who were itching to get back into the industry as sales started to bounce back from the recession. 

Two years ago, Sportsman announced it would more than double the size of its plant by adding 116,000 square feet of space. The $3.5 million investment also called for the creation of 150 jobs.

The company announced a smaller expansion in 2013.

“Sportsman Boats is proud to have roots here in South Carolina and Dorchester County, and we are excited about our continued growth,” said Tommy Hancock, co-founder and president.

The Summerville area is a longtime hub for boat makers, a lineup that includes Key West, Zodiac of North America and Scout.

The industry, which was hit hard by the last economic downturn, is now cruising along on a rising tide. 

The National Marine Manufacturers Association estimated that sales of new powerboats climbed 6 percent to 7 percent to 250,000 units last year, a trend the trade group expects to continue through at least 2018.

“Economic indicators are working in the industry’s favor — a continuously improving housing market, strong consumer confidence, growing disposable income and consumer spending, and low interest rates all contribute to a healthy recreational boating market,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the association. 

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Local anglers compete at 6th Annual Bernie Behnke Scholarship Tournament

COLDWATER — The 6th Annual Bernie Behnke Scholarship Bass Fishing Tournament was recently held at Lake Drive Marine on the Coldwater/ Marble Chain of Lakes.

The tournament is held yearly as a scholarship fundraiser for the Bernie Behnke Scholarship, named in honor of longtime outdoorsman, newspaper columnist, and fishing enthusiast Bernie Behnke who, at 98-years-old, still helps select the winners of each years scholarship.

Students are asked to submit an application and an essay describing how fishing, hunting, or outdoor life has inspired them or been a big part of their lives and Behnke, along with family members and friends, lovingly selects those candidates most deserving.

The 2018 scholarship recipients were Brad Steel and Karissa Elkins of Coldwater and Zoe Aseltine and Kaydee Swafford of Quincy, all of whom were on hand during the event to assist in boat check-in and raffle ticket sales.

The event was limited in boats this season, with organizers pairing down the size of the tournament to 82 teams, down from over 100 the previous year.

Over 80 anglers from the tri-state area competed in the Coldwater Chain of Lakes for cash and prizes in excess of ten thousand dollars.

Immediately following the weigh-in, products and services from national sponsors and local venders were auctioned and raffled in order to raise funds for the Bernie Behnke Scholarship.

The event netted more than $8,000 for scholarships in the coming years, given through the Branch Area Career Center in Behnke’s name.

Since its inception six years ago, the scholarship event has generated over $50,000 to assist area youth in furthering their education.

For the event itself, it was a Hoosier dominated event, as teams from the state of Indiana claimed a good portion of the prize money.

Coming away with the tournament win was the team of Frank Randol of Angola, IN. and Quint Butters of Homer, coming in with a five bass limit that weighed in at 12.70 pounds, a limit that included the Yamaha Big Bass Award for the largest bass of the tournament, a 4.27 pound lunker that netted the team $1,500 in total prize money.

Randol and Butters were third place finishers in the 2016 event and are superb veteran tournament anglers and are perennial favorites each year.

The team of Blake Smathers of Angola, IN. and partner Mike Klavinski of Hudson, IN. just barely missed claiming their second championship, as they had previously won in 2013, with their second place finish with a five fish limit of 10.72 pounds, good enough for a $1,000 payday.

The team’s weigh-in also included the third largest bass of the tournament at 3.98 pounds, netting the pair of Hoosiers the Rampit Big Bass award of $250.

The husband and wife team of Brian and Renee Hensley, runners up in 2016, had no fish at 2 p.m. on a difficult day of fishing, with a 2:40 check-in time looming.

The team turned their day around in a heartbeat, coming through in crunch time, eventually netting a five fish limit in less than an hour, giving them third place on the day with a total weight of 9.70 pounds, good enough for $750.

Brian and Renee Hensley recently became the first husband and wife duo to each earn a spot on the Indiana Bass Federation State team where they will get to represent their state in the national competition later this fall on Kentucky Lake.

Perennial contenders Kevin Warner of Litchfield and Kelly Warner of Homer were the first team out of the trophies with a fourth place finish, weighing in a five bass limit of 9.64 pounds, good enough for a $600 payday.

Additionally, the team of Warner and Warner brought in the second largest bass of the tournament, a 4.06 pound largemouth, earning the team the Skeeter Big Bass prize of $500.

Other local teams placing high in the final standings at the end of a tough day of fishing included Austin Cary and Mark Gordier II of Battle Creek, sixth place; Lucas Earl of Reading and James Wickey of Coldwater in seventh place; Bryce Steward of Jonesville and Dale Stewart of Hillsdale in ninth place; Doug and Terry Tucker of Albion, tenth place; Dan Inman of Union City and Mitchell Inman of Sherwood with a twelfth place finish; Bob Goheen and Dale Poley of Quincy in fifteenth place; and Darrell and Jeremy Antrup of Fremont, IN. in sixteenth place.

The first 50 teams to register for the tournament this year were also entered into a drawing for the Walmart D.C. mystery cash prize worth $300.

A special thanks goes out to all those who made the tournament possible.

A special thanks to Short’s on the Water for donating the pulled pork and ice for the anglers as they were all treated to a final meal following the weigh-in.

Other local vendors contributing prizes and service for this event included Meijer; Family Farm and Home; Tri-State Tackle; The Angler; Lake Drive Marine and staff; Spieth and Satow Auctioneers; Bobilya Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Inc.; Catalyst Marketing; Kendal Ulsh; and JDP Construction LLC.

The event organizers would also like to recognize our many volunteers who worked tirelessly to make the day a big success, including Ricky King, Don Laughton, Penny Tappenden, Belinda Smathers Corenea Wilkins, Tyler and Austin Fee, Emma Tennyson, Julie Uetrecht, Jaran Utrecht, John Foust, Paul Elton, John Rodgers, and Garrett Rodgers.

In all, it was a successful day of fishing, despite the super tough fishing conditions.

Only 39 of the 83 teams weighed in fish on the day with only 10 teams weighing a five bass limit.

But in the end the event was about raising money for the Bernie Behnke Scholarship foundation and preserving a great man’s legacy.


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