South Florida poised for marine-career growth

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South Florida’s marine industry is well-positioned to supply the materials, expertise and trained workers to handle the wave of repairs, refits, repowering and interior remodeling anticipated during the next seven to 10 years on the thousands of yachts over 80 feet built from 1998 to 2010, said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

“This is going to fill up the yards,” Purcell said in an interview at MIASF’s Fort Lauderdale office. “We are poised for it, based on our central location and the goods and services we have here. It’s not just the size of the boats, but the goods and services that make [Fort Lauderdale] the yachting capital of the world.”

Showboats International’s Global Order Books show that yards worldwide took more than 5,500 orders for yachts over 80 feet between 2000 and 2010. All of those vessels require servicing and many are about ready for an upgrade.

An estimated 1,500 yachts 80 feet or bigger visit Fort Lauderdale annually, according to MIASF studies. “The economic impact of these vessels is through the roof,” Purcell said.

Altogether the marine industry has an economic impact of $7 billion a year in Broward County and contributes to the employment of 90,000 people.

Purcell is advocating that the region prepare now for growing demand for services by informing young people about well-paying marine industry careers — MIASF is starting a jobs page on its website to connect job seekers with employers — and by reinvesting in its waterfront to attract yachts, yacht crews and their owners.

This investment should include dredging waterways all the way to the seawalls and docks so larger vessels can get to yards and marinas; building a bigger, more modern convention center at Port Everglades with an adjacent luxury hotel and large-yacht slips for tomorrow’s visitors; and providing more cultural attractions in and around the city.

Purcell, a former top executive at Westport Shipyard/Yachts, said the owners of these large yachts are “the best and the brightest” and are keen on cultural tourism.

The marine industry has 260 job openings in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties. MIASF’s jobs page will link job seekers to CareerSourceBroward.com to learn about employment in the industry. Purcell is asking the state and federal governments to establish a separate code for marine industry positions so they are more prominently advertised in state- and federally sponsored job listings and easier for job seekers to find. He also is pressing for better promotion of middle-school, high-school and college marine training programs and more partnering with other local business organizations.

“We haven’t done as good a job as we need to do working together to tell people about the careers that we offer,” he said.

On Saturday, MIASF hosted a Marine Industry Day at Fort Lauderdale’s Esplanade Park to do just that. The family-oriented event offered music by three bands, an exhibit from the Museum of Discovery and Science, a pirate ship and an interactive pirate show, a pool with a remote-controlled yacht model and interactive marine industry booths educating the public about the industry and its careers.

“We’re great at telling our story to each other,” Purcell said. “We need to tell that story to people outside the area.”

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people attended the event.

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