Homer may have its toes in Kachemak Bay, but last week Homer Deputy Harbormaster Matt Clarke, the Homer Marine Trades Association and many of Homer’s marine-related businesses cast their eyes toward a larger world at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, Washington.
“I have had more meaningful conversations and inquiries regarding Homer and the harbor than at any other trade event,” Clarke said. “Introductions are made here and relationships are built.”
Standing before a banner with an image of the city’s proposed large vessel port expansion project, Clark answered questions from expo visitors eager to hear what Homer currently offers and what the expanded harbor will mean. In 2020, the United States Army Corps of Engineers will begin a 3-year study of the project that, once completed, will include a large vessel harbor with 80-100 berths and expansion of the existing Deep Water Dock.
“We’re letting the industry know that this is Homer’s vision,” Clarke said.
An image of Northern Enterprises’ dock upgrades to be completed by fall of 2020 also was pictured on the banner. A 200-metric ton Travelift and reconfiguration of the boatyard also are being done to “meet the needs of the community,” said Aaron Fleenor of Northern Enterprises. “Homer is the place to bring your boat.”
As HMTA vice president, Fleenor, and his wife Amber, took advantage of the event to “brag all about Homer,” he said. “Expo is not just about Northern Enterprise. Being part of Homer Marine Trades is a cooperative effort. It’s all about people — the customers, employees, families. That’s what being raised in Homer taught me. Family and community come first.”
“Those are Alaskan values,” Amber Fleenor said.
Kate Mitchell and Jennifer Hakala of NOMAR not only spoke with fishermen about their durable brailer bags and other NOMAR produces, but, like the Fleenors, shared information about HMTA’s more than 100 business members. Mitchell was quick to praise the partnership between HMTA and the city of Homer.
“The city’s harbor realizes that the very things they do bring us customers, and our growing number of customers is good for their business, too,” Mitchell said. “The cooperation of the city, the port and harbor, with the business community has been most helpful in getting progress.”
Underscoring Mitchell’s words, a video created by Homer videographer Mark Brinster played continually at the HMTA-Homer harbor booth. Its scenes highlighted the southern Kenai Peninsula and Kachemak Bay’s natural beauty and the all-encompassing boat-building, repair and storage available in Homer.
“Being at Expo expands our market reach and helps us contact customers outside of Alaska,” said Eric Engebretsen of Bay Weld.
It also is a way to connect with customers from around the state. Among the hundreds of people he spoke with each of the three days, “I bet half of the people in the room were from Alaska,” Engebretsen said.
In September, the largest to-date boat built by Bay Weld was launched. The 74-foot Goldbelt Seawolf is a result of a connection Engebretsen said he made at a past Marine Pacific Expo. In October, the Homer boat-builders received the Alaska Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Bill Bivins Small Business of the Year award.
“Homer is unique in what it has to offer,” Engebretsen said of the community’s well-rounded marine trades. “Homer is not lacking in anything. It has it all in one place.”
Bay Weld, NOMAR, and HMTA-Homer harbor booths were located in Expo’s aptly-named “Alaska Hall,” while Bulletproof Nets was located on the main floor with examples of its nets and spliced lines on display.
“In order to keep a business viable, you need to expand and we felt we’d reached our limit in Homer and wanted to take our products to fishermen outside of Homer,” said Josiah Campbell, one of the business’ owners. Indeed, Bulletproof has expanded its reach with their products used in Petersburg, Sitka, False Pass, Cordova and Valdez.
Although not an Alaska-based company, XtraTuf’s display included boots with the distinctive Salmon Sisters-designed lining, as well as half- and ankle-boots, slip-ons, and deck shoes bearing the XtraTuf-Salmon Sisters label. Leaving the marketing to Bo Thai, XtraTuf’s product manager from the East Coast, and other members of the XtraTuf team, the sisters, Emma Laukitis and Claire Neaton, focused on enjoying themselves. Neaton emceed Fisherman of the Year competition, the sisters greeted fishing friends attending Expo and posed for photos with Homer fisherman Reba Temple, who modeled an attention-getting, one-of-a-kind dress made from NOMAR’s brailer bags with a banner declaring her “Brailer Queen.”
Booked as the “largest and longest running commercial fishing and commercial marine tradeshow on the West Coast,” the annual Seattle-based Pacific Marine Expo brought together more than 500 vendors under the roof of CenturyLink Field Event Center. Educational programs and special events for young and old, seasoned fishermen and those wanting to get into the business, seafood updates and performances by fisherpoets and musicians kept the thousands of visitors entertained.
Collin Hagen, a Homer fisherman, was among the crowd.
“This is a good place to find out about pricing, shipping, to build relationships and connections with other fishermen, and to know what’s going on,” Hagen said.
McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.