November 5, 2007
By Lisa Plummer — Tradeshow Week
Speak to CMTA Hartford Boat & Fishing Show Manager Grant Westerson about his industry, and you’ll learn all about a form of recreation that continues to grow, especially along the Eastern seaboard. As executive director of the Connecticut Marine Trades Assn., Westerson has been at the helm of a show that has more than doubled in size over the past three years. Yet the humble captain claims the impressive growth of the show resulted from a combination of elbow grease and a great opportunity – a new venue.
When the CMTA had a chance to move its boat and fishing show from the Hartford Civic Center to the roomy new 540,000 square foot Connecticut Convention Center, what resulted wasn’t just show growth, but a mushroom effect. Between 2005 and 2006 the show expanded from 68,000 square feet to 155,000 sq. ft. and the number of exhibiting companies jumped from 110 to 200. This past January, show attendance exceeded 16,000.
Westerson, who has been in the recreational boating industry since childhood, can’t say enough about the professionalism of the CCC and his association staff.
“We worked very hard at it, took a lot more staff hours and did a lot more lobbying to run the show in a new facility,” he said. “There was lots of competition for that, but 35 yearsof experience weighed us in very deeply. (Hartford) could have picked any other show, but elected to stick with the state trade association.”
The CMTA was founded in 1954 to promote the interests of the recreational boating industry in Connecticut. It sports a current membership of 300, and for the past eight years, the annual boat and fishing show has been its primary event. This past January’s marked the 39th annual edition.
The new convention center is part of a city and state effort to revitalize Hartford’s downtown district. According to Westerson, the area is going through a rebirth.
“The Connecticut Convention Center (has been) beautiful for Hartford and for Connecticut. The people are incredibly easy to work with and recognize what business is,” he said.
But, Westerson added, boating isn’t just a business; it’s a lifestyle. Before heading the association for 12 years and the show for almost a decade, he got his start in the industry by working around (and running) the family yacht dealership for 30 years. When he’s not managing the CMTA, he is an accredited marine surveyor and officer.
“I spend Sundays in season running the marine police boat, making life wonderful for the boaters in the area,” Westerson said. “I do get in plenty of boating, but with speeders, drunks and accidents, it has become more of a calling. There is a great professional satisfaction involved when you find a lost person at 4 a.m.”
There seems to be no stopping the show’s wave of success. Next year’s event, set to take place Jan. 24-27 at the CCC, is already 98 percent sold out.