Having fun — and telling a ‘story’

Fort Lauderdale festivities celebrate the contributions of the marine industry to the South Florida economy

Children built tiny props under the supervision of propeller shop employees and tested them on radio-controlled boats in drag races. Families sat down together to build Lego ships at a Fort Lauderdale booth manned by staff from a maritime training school.

Volunteers from a marine refrigeration business gave away 800 snow cones. Broward County’s School of Rock youth band played on stage while advisers from colleges and vocational and marine magnet schools promoted educational opportunities.

It was June 18, the Marine Industries Association of South Florida’s third annual Marine Industry Day, an afternoon of festivities that brought together marine workers, their families and the public for fun and games; water taxi, electric boat and tugboat tours; miniature train rides; musical entertainment; environmental education; and eats from five food trucks at Esplanade Park on Fort Lauderdale’s New River.

More than 40 companies turned out this year. Most were from the marine industry, but some, such as banks, were from sectors that work alongside the industry. They participated not just for the fun of it — although it was important to have fun — but also to wage a low-key educational campaign reminding the 2,500 or so who attended that the marine industry employs many of their neighbors, patronizes and supports many of their businesses and is a powerful job engine in South Florida.

“We are well woven into the fabric of this community,” says MIASF executive director Phil Purcell.

The boating lifestyle defines South Florida. The industry that undergirds the lifestyle employs 136,000 workers regionally, he says. Children wearing T-shirts reading, “My family works in the marine industry,” helped drive the point home.

Marine industry jobs pay 28 percent better, on average, than jobs across all sectors in Broward County, Purcell says.

“Whatever path kids want to take, there’s a career for them in the marine industry,” he says. And because “moms and pops” comprise much of the industry in South Florida, young people can learn a trade or some aspect of the marine business and start their own companies, employ people and help grow the boating industry and the local economy.

This is what Purcell calls the marine industry’s “story.” One of the purposes of Marine Industry Day is to tell that story — “humbly,” he says — while touting the industry’s benefits to the community and making friends for the boating business.

Boating and the boating lifestyle are sources of enjoyment for South Floridians. Going boating provides wholesome family recreation. The sport and the businesses it supports advocate clean water, healthy reefs and a clean environment. And the industry needs, promotes and supports a skilled and educated work force.

Purcell says Marine Industry Day addresses all of this in an understated way.

“It felt like a fully mature event this year,” he says. It was fun, but it made a point.

“This is one of those things that we really should roll out nationally,” he says. “This is the perfect time of year to put on a Marine Industry Day in Maine, Washington state, Rhode Island, Michigan, Wisconsin — anywhere that a lot of registered boats are.”

Such an event can “raise the industry’s profile, show that it’s an integral part of the community,” not an elitist bunch, as it often is perceived, and a good place to work, he says.

“You can have a bad day from time to time, but most of the time this is a wonderful industry to be in,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue.