Silicon Valley’s reputation is built on technology. Detroit, though it has lost some of its mojo, has been renowned for its cars. And South Florida? Its future lies in branding itself as an “international marine hub,” says Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.
Purcell delivered his message at an April meeting with the boating media. Broward County’s boating industry — yards, builders, marinas, boat shows and sales, service and support businesses — alone employs 110,000 people and generates an estimated $8.8 billion a year, Purcell says.
The region also supports a thriving oceanography complex — Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center, the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, and Florida International University’s Aquarius underwater research station.
Marine business and oceanographic research are two of the faces of South Florida as a marine center, but few appreciate the contributions of the boating business and marine research to either the local economy or the community, Purcell says.
“We have to go outside our industry and pass on these stories,” market and brand the region as an international marine hub and promote it as a gathering place for entrepreneurs and CEOs, not just so they can buy, sell and enjoy their boats, but so they also can start or invest in marine businesses and help fund important ocean research, either as philanthropists or investors, Purcell says.
Spreading that word is the underlying purpose of the MIASF’s Marine Industry Day, Purcell says. The event is scheduled from noon to 6 p.m. June 20 at Esplanade Park along downtown Fort Lauderdale’s Riverwalk on the New River.
The event is family-oriented and fun and brings together workers and their families in the industry with people in the community. Last year’s Marine Industry Day attracted more than 2,000 people and 25 interactive and educational exhibits, including one in which children raced model boats and designed and built their own props for their entry; a pirate ship; a helm simulator where children could “drive” a boat; family games; antique boat and motor displays; entertainment; and food trucks.
Purcell says the event engages the public, illustrates the industry’s contributions to the region and mobilizes public support on a number of important issues. Those issues include:
- All Aboard Florida, the high-speed passenger train that is proposed to run 32 times daily between Miami and Orlando: The MIASF wants AAF to elevate the tracks so the trains won’t tie up boat traffic at railroad drawbridges on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale, the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter and the St. Lucie River/Okeechobee Waterway in Stuart.
- Intracoastal Waterway dredging: Dredging on the ICW between the 17th Street bridge and Sunrise Boulevard, scheduled to begin after the 2015 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, will open up the ICW to deeper-draft superyachts.
- New Las Olas marina: The city is expected to approve a request for proposals for a new marina on the ICW at the Las Olas Boulevard bridge this summer.
- Redeveloping the Broward County Convention Center and building a megayacht marina in the port: These are MIASF goals.
- Redevelop the Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Hotel and Marina, the epicenter of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show: Purcell says it’s coming.
- Adopt a sales tax cap on yacht refits this year that will limit the tax to the first $600,000 of a refit project.
- Persuade the federal government to assign a separate occupational code to the marine industry so data about it can be segregated.
Purcell says the MIASF, owner of the Fort Lauderdale show, started using the show to help “brand” the region as a marine hub by partnering with Broward’s public-private economic development agency and its official tourism marketer to host a business-building luncheon on the show’s opening day last year. It invited top company executives from key sectors and foreign diplomats from 18 countries to the luncheon.
“This is the best gathering place in the world for entrepreneurs and CEOs,” he says. The MIASF also is working on having one of the network morning shows broadcast from Fort Lauderdale in the days leading up to this year’s Fort Lauderdale show to promote both the show and the industry.
Purcell says other marine trade groups around the nation could use this template to brand their regions as marine hubs. “This is franchisable,” he says.
More information about Marine Industry Day and how to get involved is available at marineindustry day.org.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.