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The battle for boating interests in Michigan

I can’t count the times I have written that our marine trade associations do for dealers what they couldn’t hope to do by themselves. So I say that again and support it by citing what the Michigan Boating Industries Association is tackling these days.

How about defending attempts to kill the Michigan post-Labor Day school law? Why not dump daylight savings time? How about banning wakeboarding? Or charging unreasonable submerged land lease rates? That’s enough to make any marine trade association executive think about a career change.

“Not me,” the highly-regarded MBIA executive director Nicki Polan said. “We are fully engaged in defending Michigan boating and we’re out on the front lines with our message everywhere there are possible policy changes that could hurt our members and our boaters.”

For example, there’s an ongoing attempt in the legislature to overturn Michigan’s law mandating a post-Labor Day school start. About a decade ago, Michigan became the eleventh state to establish that schools cannot open until after Labor Day. The MBIA, along with other tourism businesses, fought hard for several years to get that law passed. And economic studies done after implementation revealed millions of dollars in increased boating and tourism spending (and in tax revenues for the state) as families no longer saw their summers cut short by early school openings.

“I recently testified again to keep [the] post-Labor Day school start in place,” Polan said. “It is a very heated battle, but we are determined to assure this important law stays in place and also close the loophole which allows high schools connected with junior college to apply for waivers.” (Personal note: As executive director of the Boating Associations of Ohio, I tried to get the same great law passed for Ohio, but never could top union opposition.)

On another front, the MBIA is in the fight to defeat a bill proposal that would take away Daylight Savings Time. “DST is important to our industry as boaters and anglers need daylight hours in the evenings to enjoy their boats and fish during the summer months,” Polan explains. “But there are many other important benefits to DST — social and economic benefits.”

For dealers selling to the rapidly-growing water-sports market, there are ominous clouds building on the horizon. The murmur from groups wanting to institute laws, ordinances and local rules to stop wakeboard boats and activities is getting decidedly louder. Indeed, the city of Harbor Springs has already done it.

The MBIA is fully engaged in this issue, too. “We are already researching who has the jurisdiction to do this (and where) under maritime and other law,” Polan said, “and we will be fully prepared to aggressively fight any current and future attempts like this that will clearly hurt our industry and our customers.”

Meanwhile, the MBIA has already moved quickly to launch a “Watch Your Wake/ Share the Lake” campaign to help boaters understand that it’s in their best interest to operate courteously with each other to avoid unnecessary laws and regulations.

That’s very important because Michigan is such a huge boating state and what happens in this wakeboard boat scenario there could easily trigger similar actions everywhere. So, while the MBIA takes on the issue in Michigan, the marine industry as a whole should be aware it could have a much wider impact ahead.

Finally, here’s one more example of how a trade association strives to improve the business of its members. The MBIA is working with the State of Michigan to roll back bottomland lease rates from 10 percent to a more reasonable 5 percent for privately owned commercial marinas. It’s not just a matter of cost to private marina operators and dealers, but it’s wholly justifiable to make the playing field more level between the private and economically-advantaged public sectors.

Bottom line: No matter where your dealership, marina or boating service business is located, membership in your state and/or local MTA is a common-sense investment in getting important things done for your business.


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