Credit flow, E15 headline ABC agenda

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Boating Congress goal is to get hometown voices lobbying lawmakers on bread-and-butter issues

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This year's American Boating Congress will focus on several key issues affecting the boat business - notably the lack of access to credit and the shortage of dealer floorplan financing.

"I think that's issue A," says Mat Dunn, legislative director for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which organizes ABC. "It continues to be a major problem for the industry, particularly as we anticipate an increase in production of boats in 2010. Working out the kinks in the credit market and distribution chain ... is going to continue to be a key issue for 2010."

ABC is scheduled for May 5-6 in Washington, D.C., at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, a new location for the conference that is within walking distance of the Capitol, public transportation and the NMMA office. Like ABC 2009, this year's conference schedule has been streamlined to allow attendees to minimize travel expenses and time away from their businesses.

May 5 will be devoted to meetings. May 6 will consist of an intensive schedule of morning sessions, followed by visits to lawmakers' offices on Capitol Hill in the afternoon.

"We think the Hill visits are crucial," says Dunn. "They set the stage for future follow-up work from the lobbyists in this office, but they put a face on the issue for members of Congress and their staffs - a local face and a local story."

He says passage of the Clean Boating Act, for example, was helped through visits to the Hill from the boating community.

Between 150 and 200 people are expected to attend - a turnout Dunn calls a "really good number to flood the Hill." About two weeks before the conference, the NMMA will host a webinar to provide information and answer questions about Hill visits.

Dunn says he expects financing issues to be a major discussion point between attendees, members of Congress and their staffs. The topic also will be discussed during the morning session, and organizers hope to bring in members of the House of Representatives and the Senate who have been working on initiatives that would assist the industry with these pressing issues.

The Small Business Administration's dealer financing program also promises to be a key part of these talks. The program, instituted last year, continues to be a source of frustration for dealers who have been unable to find banks willing to work within its parameters.

"It was coming out of ABC last year when we began talking about this problem," says Dunn. "The Small Business Administration pilot program, the dealer program, was a topic then. It had not been completed yet, but shortly after ABC, in the summer, that program was rolled out."

He says the NMMA continues to push for changes to the program. "We hope those will be done sooner rather than later, but certainly the SBA program is not working as [well] as we had hoped, so going to Congress to exert some pressure on the Small Business Administration will be a featured point of the Hill visits," he says.

Also included in these discussions will be jobs bills winding their way through Congress, which could include provisions related to the SBA dealer floorplan program. Environmental issues also are on the agenda. An update on the Clean Boating Act is planned for the afternoon of May 5, and seminars are expected to be scheduled on the status of E15 and legislation that would protect the industry from higher ethanol blends should the Environmental Protection Agency approve their use. Industry representatives have repeatedly told the administration that E15 damages boat engines and, consequently, the industry.

This is a "hot issue," Dunn says. "It's going to get more intense as we go into the summertime, when EPA has suggested it will be making a decision. May is a good month to begin a heavy conversation on this topic."

As Congress moves into the middle of its session, Dunn says there may be efforts to pass an energy bill in the summer or fall, and some safeguards against E15 could be a part of that legislation. Another issue ABC will highlight is President Obama's ocean policy initiative and the "escalating crisis as we see in fisheries management," as well as the "effort to do ocean zoning," Dunn says.

Finally, the November midterm elections will be a part of the discussion. "Election season is always a time where legislating slows down and members get skittish, and they go home to run their re- election campaigns," Dunn says. He says the NMMA hopes to bring in a speaker to talk about what to expect from the midterm elections, how that will change the political dynamic in Washington and what it means to the industry.

ABC's regular registration, with a $160 fee, runs through April 19. Late registration is $190. Online registration is available through April 19. Reservations for the hotel block also close April 19.

For information or to register, visit www.nmma.org/abc.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue.

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