The 15th annual International Marina & Boatyard Conference will open on Jan. 25 at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale and run through Jan. 27.
The Association of Marina Industries produces the conference, which is geared to marina and boatyard owners, operators and managers, as well as dockmasters, harbormasters, boatbuilders and repairers and industry consultants.
This year’s theme is innovation, says Kayce Florio, business manager and director of events for IMBC. “The focus is really about innovation, creating new profit streams, new revenue streams and leadership.”
It’s an exciting time for the industry, which has seen investment dollars pouring in after years of stagnancy, Florio says. “I remember a time when Textron was one of the biggest lenders for anyone looking to purchase a marina or do huge development,” she says. “That went away [during the Great Recession] and there was a huge absence in the market for quite a bit of time. That was the go-to for a lot of marinas. If they wanted to do a big project or someone wanted to go buy a marina, that’s where they turned. When they dissolved, there was a huge absence in the industry as to where to go.”
The entry of investment dollars has helped revitalize infrastructure and amenities.
“If you look at where our membership is going, it’s growing leaps and bounds, and training is growing leaps and bounds,” Florio says. “AMI has been around since 1986, and last year was our most successful for training. When there was a release of money for the industry, more money has been able to go to training and travel associated with training. It’s always a good sign because those are the first things to get cut.”
The recession hit marinas later than other segments of the industry because people tried to keep their boats in the water as long as possible, she says. “It’s been a rebuilding process, and the last two years have been really reflective of what’s been going on. I’m also talking about our membership investing in themselves and their training because training is the last thing people spend their money on.”
This year’s biggest events include the new IMBC pub crawl, an AMI member meeting followed by a first-time attendee reception and the IMBC’s opening-night exhibit hall party Jan. 25. The event itself will feature keynote speaker Steve Gilliland, who will give a presentation called “Enjoy the Ride.”
Dozens of seminars and workshops focus on four key areas: operations; service and repair; design and engineering; and best industry practices. Sessions include developing new revenue streams, planning successful dredging projects, preparing for coming changes to the marine electrical safety program and solid succession planning. Each day of learning closes with receptions and socials for continued industry networking.
Weather topics remain relevant despite quiet hurricane seasons in recent years. One session will look at the new normal in planning for changing weather — including floods, droughts, hail, “megastorms” and “rain bombs.” Another session is called “Marina Design with Nature and Resilience.” Discussion, led by Esteban Biondi, will center on adapting to sea level rise.
Diversity will be addressed in several sessions, including one on managing a millennial workforce. That program will be conducted by the American Boat Builders & Repairers Association.
The Recreational Boating Leadership Council’s New Markets Task Force rolled out a new training segment in the fall. Its 45-minute multimedia platform features new statistics on the economic power and clout of targeted multicultural markets. The new training program has added five best-practice segments featuring industry businesses that are reaching out and successfully engaging multicultural audiences.
The seminar concludes with a list of the top “take-home” messages that participants can apply to their businesses, plus a list of references and resources. The program is being launched nationwide, and the session will be led by Wanda Kenton Smith of Freedom Boat Club.
Seminars on legal issues include one that deals with managing risk and limiting liability, with a concentration on boatyards that straddle state and federal jurisdictions. Another will examine marine law best practices, tapping Dennis Nixon, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and director of Rhode Island Sea Grant.
Technical seminars, of which there are many, include boatyard fires, understanding marina technical equipment and one titled “Marina Industry Looming Challenge — Servicing New E-Boats/ EV Customers While Maintaining Efficient Operating Costs.” That one will focus on servicing a new class of marina customers — ones who are increasingly adopting electric marine propulsion for their boats and electric vehicles for their main form of land transportation.
“IMBC is celebrating its 15th anniversary,” says Florio. “It started out in a very small exhibit hall, and it’s blossomed to where it is today 15 years later. For me it’s become the leading conference for marina managers, developers, owners, and it will continue to grow. If we stepped back to 15 years ago and said where would we want this to be, I think it’s exactly where they want it to be.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue.