United industry front forms in Florida again

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No state has more marine industry associations with more political clout than Florida does with its eight. And setting the stage to reinvigorate that power was what a recent summit meeting in Sarasota was called to accomplish.

Florida’s eight trade association are as diverse as the Sunshine State’s boating scene. From the big yacht capital of southeast Florida, it’s a nine-plus hour drive (645 miles) to the Panhandle in the northwest. Accordingly, each trade association has been active in addressing frequent and unique local issues in their respective area.

But in recent years that has also led to a lapse in a united effort for statewide actions. Some say it’s been as many as 10 years since all the groups sat down together. Everyone agreed that must change.

“After all is said and done, we’re still one industry with a huge statewide economic impact and that means we have power to influence public policies,” Marine Industries Association of South Florida executive director Phil Purcell said.

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The summit was organized and hosted by the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association. I was privileged to serve as meeting facilitator. The others groups attending included: Marine Industries Association of Northwest Florida; Marine Industries Association of Collier County; MIASF; Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County; Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast; Marine Industry Association of Central Florida; and the Jacksonville Marine Association. (Note: the Florida Yacht Brokers Association couldn’t attend but is a very active part of the industry.)

“We’re not together to look in a rearview mirror,” SWFMIA president Hans Wilson said to open the summit, “but to focus on what we can do together that will benefit all of us and our members.”

To that end, the two-day meeting resulted in a unanimous commitment to move forward. Further, the attendees established a list of conclusions, short-term directions and goals that included:

  • The Marine Industry Association of Florida (MIAF), once the voice of the industry on statewide issues but not currently supported by all state trade groups, should be revitalized as the source of both information and coordination and the industry’s face in Tallahassee.
  • The MIAF should immediately commission an economic impact study of Florida boating to become the authoritative chronicle distributed to lawmakers and agencies in Tallahassee, as well as where it can help trade associations speak from the same page when addressing local issues. This alone will be a major step in a unified branding or positioning of the marine industry in Florida.
  • The executive directors of the trade groups should participate in regularly scheduled conference calls to discuss current issues, events and directions, and meet at least annually
  • The eight trade associations should have a “mutual aid pact” outlook in which one grop would weigh in with other(s) on a local issue where such could be helpful — such as All Aboard Florida’s proposed railroad bridge closings on the eastern coast or boating restriction proposals on the west coast or sector separation fishing issues in the Panhandle.
  • The MIAF should develop a realistic action plan and budget that establishes operational needs and specific goals
  • The MIAF should establish direct lines of communications between participating organizations and their members, as well as other interested industry groups, like the Florida Marine Contractors Association (which also attended the summit). Moreover, the MIAF should even explore positive relationships with consumer fishing and boating groups, like Standing Watch (also represented at the summit), for example.

Overall, the Florida marine industry faces many issues, ranging from incredibly difficult permitting processes to potential anchoring restrictions on recreational boats to federal agencies seeking to shut down large areas to boating and fishing. Equally important, a united Florida industry has the inherent influence not just to fend off bad policies, but to command favorable legislation and regulatory decisions that can boost the success of the industry.

So kudos to all the trade associations at the summit. You have turned the page and will write a new and important chapter.

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