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‘There’s nobody bigger than us’

That’s the message of economic clout the industry will impress upon South Florida leaders in June
The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show brings millions of dollars to the region.

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show brings millions of dollars to the region.

The upcoming Marine Industry Day in South Florida begins with the Panama Canal. “And you’re going to say, ‘Where are you going with this?’ ” says Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. (He’s right.)

The widening of the canal is scheduled to be finished in 2016. The expansion will affect ports along the East Coast, with increased amounts of freight going up Florida’s Atlantic coast, Purcell says. “So how does this affect boating?” The infrastructure will have to be built up so freight can travel to its destinations, he says.

“That puts freight trains on bridges over waterways that lead in and out of our boatyards and reduces boat access,” Purcell says. “If this train goes over the river and goes over bridges so boats can’t get into yards, it impacts the industry.”

It’s one thing to tell people about the number of jobs the marine industry provides in South Florida; it’s another thing to show them. So that’s what Marine Industry Day, as the city of Fort Lauderdale has designated June 11, is designed to do — to serve as an industry voice for area leaders and media representatives.

MIASF executive director Phil Purcell

MIASF executive director Phil Purcell

The MIASF holds the position that growing the regional economy and adding jobs is certainly a worthy goal but not at the expense of derailing the industry’s 90,000 existing jobs. It’s vital to emphasize the job impact to policy-makers in a unified way, Purcell says. “When I go to civic centers and speak, and say, ‘The marine industry is great,’ not everyone understands. … The town does not exist outside the marine industry. We’re already here. There’s nobody bigger than us.”

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show alone, which Purcell calls a “Super Bowl-sized event,” brings millions of dollars to the area. “It comes here every fall. It fills hotels, the whole region,” he says. “We have this whole economic driver, and we don’t ask for anything in return. It’s really just about getting recognition for what the marine industry brings to the region and making sure that all of the public officials support and make decisions that … do not risk the industry in any way and partner together in a way that grows the industry.”

Marine Industry Day will be at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach and will serve as an awareness day for city leaders and the media. Included will be panel discussions related to jobs, education and industry growth, along with several MIASF scholarship presentations for promising students who are planning a future in marine-related fields.

The following Saturday, June 14, will honor the marine work force — from dealers to welders to sanders — who make up Broward County’s No. 1 economic driver, Purcell says. Those are the people who fill the middle-class jobs the general public often overlooks. They’re also people who deserve recognition for their contribution to what the industry brings to the region.

“We expect a couple of thousand people, but it’s really about the 90,000 people who contribute to this $7 billion industry,” Purcell says. “It’s a day to recognize them and what they contribute to the local economy.”

That business-sponsored event will take place at Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale and will entail games, live music, boats, cars and general family fun. Sponsors include Soundings Trade Only and Show Management (both owned by Active Interest Media), among others in and outside the marine industry. Workers are encouraged to bring children and spouses.

A number of related events will serve as an outreach to key sponsors; city, state and county officials; and VIPs. These include a May 14 reception in support of Artists for Conservation and exposure to the industry’s largest showcase event, the MIASF-owned Fort Lauderdale boat show.

The regionalized approach needs to be considered in planning, growth and the future of the marine industry, Purcell maintains. The “Seven50” plan, a 50-year blueprint to help ensure economic prosperity and quality of life for the seven counties of southeast Florida, has a goal of creating a stronger economy for the region.

All Aboard Florida, a proposed high-speed passenger rail system along the state’s east coast, is getting guidance from MIASF and others about how to coexist with boat owners, boatyards, marinas and related businesses, according to MIASF. The core issue from the marine perspective is the management and timing of trains using the FEC and CSX bridges.

According to the MIASF, the group has met to achieve a formalized approach with the city of Fort Lauderdale and Broward commissioners, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County and U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel. The group has sought to advance marine industry views, requested a county study to identify the impact of the additional bridge lifts and met with representatives of All Aboard to underscore the importance of open navigation and its relationship to the health of the marine industry.

“The goal in these efforts is to keep all of the affected groups — including the planners, government, transportation agencies and environmental entities — and the media aware of marine industry views,” the MIASF says in its newsletter. “Several regional broadcast and print media outlets have provided additional coverage, gaining input of marine businesses and others illustrating their concerns.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue.

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