TRENTON, Maine — If good things come in threes, a local yacht builder had enough reasons to celebrate Tuesday at its local production facility.
A contract, an award and lower sales taxes on some of its boats were Morris Yachts’ main reasons for celebration when the company welcomed Gov. John Baldacci and other dignitaries at one of its manufacturing buildings by the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.
Last fall, Morris Yachts was awarded a contract by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to build four 44-foot sailing training vessels.
Last winter, for the sixth time in the past 16 years, Morris Yachts won Cruising World magazine’s coveted Bristol Award.
This spring, the Legislature adopted a new reduced tax structure for the sales of boats to out-of-state residents.
The new tax law went into effect Aug. 1. It reduces the sales tax — from 5 percent to 2 percent — on boats bought by nonresidents who keep their boats in Maine for at least 30 days. It eliminates the sales tax on nonresident boats that remain in Maine for fewer than 30 days.
The previous law required boats to leave the state within 30 days or pay the full 5 percent sales tax.
Baldacci, who supported the reduced tax and signed it into law, said Tuesday that by reducing the amount of taxes new boat sales generate in Maine, the state’s boat building industry will benefit and, he hopes, grow.
According to Morris officials, Rhode Island has no sales tax on boats, so boat owners often take their yachts there for storage or other services. Maine’s boat-building industry supports 5,000 jobs in the state, according to industry group Maine Built Boats, and has annual sales of more than $650 million.
“We were very excited to do that because boat building is so important” to Maine’s economy, the governor said, standing in front of a Morris 29 hull at the Trenton facility.
Baldacci noted that Maine’s boat industry not only supports boat-building jobs, but also has contributed to the state’s economy through the development of wood composite and offshore wind turbine technology.
“If you level the playing field, they can compete against anyone anywhere,” Baldacci said.
Cuyler Morris, head of the company, said the new tax structure would help not just his company and other boat builders in the state, but the people who work for them, too.
“We need that as a tool to keep people here,” Morris said. “We are the boat-building state of the nation.”
Many of Morris Yachts’ 70 employees, as well as other industry officials and Morris customers, also celebrated as Cruising World’s 2010 Bristol Award for Boat of the Year was presented to the company. Morris Yachts has won the award six times since 1994, most recently in 2007, for a variety of boat models.
Morris said the firm is expected to begin construction soon on the Coast Guard’s four Leadership 44 sailboats, all of which are being paid for with private funds. The project has enabled the company to rehire some former workers it had to lay off last summer, Morris said.
The economy still may have a lot of room for improvement, Morris said, but the firm is hoping to win another Coast Guard contract to build four more Leadership 44s.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Morris said.
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud also attended Tuesday’s event.