ABC 2020: Threading the Needle

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Boating interest has been way up during the pandemic

Boating interest has been way up during the pandemic

More than 800 people yesterday tuned in for the first day of the American Boating Congress, held virtually and moderated by Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

It was a record turnout, said NMMA president Frank Hugelmeyer, who kicked off the event. ABC runs again this afternoon from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

The economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but boating and fishing are uniquely positioned to play a vital role in recovering, said Hugelmeyer. That’s evidenced by record traffic to the Discover Boating website and other marine sites, as well as long lines at reopened launch ramps.

“Americans are choosing what’s most important to them, and recreational boating and fishing have made the cut,” Hugelmeyer said.

Michael Stein, who is on the House Small Business Committee, and Renée Bender, who works on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said the offices have been working together in a bipartisan manner even before the pandemic.

This helped the offices draft a bill that became the CARES Act, but it was still challenging to create such a huge piece of legislation so quickly, Bender said.

“It was certainly unlike any experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve been in the Senate for 12 years,” she said. “It was very high speed. You’re trying to think through things you might normally have weeks or months to do in a few days. It came together in 10 to 12 days.”

Still, there are issues and challenges that both continue to address, Stein said. For example, when the bill was written, the timeline was unknown, so businesses originally had eight weeks to spend the money, and had to put 75 percent of it toward payroll for the loan to be forgiven.

That hasn’t been feasible for all small and very small businesses, so some of those types of stipulations were in negotiation for how to relax them. Because significant economic challenges have lasted beyond eight weeks, the committees are considering pushing the timeline to 24 weeks, Stein said.

“That should give companies more options, more flexibility and more chance to ramp back up,” he said.

There also has been discussion of including nonprofits such as the NMMA, as 501(c)6 operations had been initially excluded.

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“We have helped over 3,000 members throughout this crisis,” Vasilaros said. “The ability of trade associations like ours to serve our members depends on our financial stability.”

The committees have heard from several trade associations that support small and very small businesses, and have stepped up their advocacy during the crisis, Stein said.

The aid should be flexible enough to help where it is really needed, but it should also be allocated, as much as possible, to small and very small companies, rather than large companies that are seeking to take advantage of aid, both said.

The economy was hit hard Vasilaros said in an industry update, but interest in boating has grown. The Discover Boating website had a 128 percent increase in traffic the first two weekends of May versus last year.

“Consumer interest is through the roof,” she said.

The industry has manufactured 460,000 pieces of emergency equipment to help fight the coronavirus, she added.

NMMA is rolling out an advocacy platform that allows marine businesses to tag their members of Congress on social media posts so they can see how the industry is proactively keeping people safe while continuing to operate.

Marine manufacturers have been among some of the first to restart operations, Vasilaros said.

“A reason we’re more likely to be in those phase one reopenings is, marine manufacturing allows for social distancing,” Vasilaros said.

Many have already put up barriers, created work stations, are conducting temperature screenings before people come to work, and partitioned areas in plants and showrooms, she said.

These are examples of things to post on social media to help customers and elected officials understand that marine companies can operate safely. NMMA has set up a tool wherein business owners text “boat” to 345-345, or go to boatingunited.org, and can automatically tag their members of Congress in posts.

“They are 100 percent on Facebook and Twitter,” Vasilaros said.

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